A Blue Christmas Service, also known as a Longest Night service, is a time when we gather together to worship and to acknowledge those “blue” feelings we can get around the holidays. The worship is planned to support each other as we experience grief and loss, but also to move us toward the hope that comes with the birth of Jesus Christ. A Blue Christmas service is a wonderful time of rest and encouragement for those who have lost a loved one, especially recently, for those who are struggling with their faith, or for those who are simply stressed out by the holidays. On that evening, we sing together, hear God’s Word together, pray together, light candles together, and commune together. There is also a homily (short sermon) This is the homily from last night’s Blue Christmas Service at Christ Lutheran of Millersville:
“A voice heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”
It is difficult to hear those lines from the second chapter of Matthew in the same way after what happened in Newtown, Connecticut last week. But those lines, occurring in Scripture so soon after the story of Christ’s birth, remind us that Jesus did not come into the safe, sanitized world of Christmas cards and children’s pageants, but that Jesus – God in human flesh – was born into the real world of sadness and hatred and violence and fear.
After what happened last week, people wondered, “Where is God?”
Because of the birth of Jesus Christ, because Emmanuel – God with us – came into the world, we can say, “God is there. God is right here.”
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!” (John 1:5)
Of course it’s not just a tragedy in Connecticut or other bad news we hear and see in the media that makes us wonder, “Where is God.”
The reality of our own lives can stretch our faith, can leave us wondering if we are alone and if there really is anything besides this reality.
When the doctor says, “Your tests show something that concerns me,” we may wonder, “Where is God.”
When the bills come and there’s not enough money in the bank account, and there seems to be no hope of ever catching up much less getting ahead, we may wonder, “Where is God.”
When our children make bad choices and even reject us, when our spouses let us down and even leave us, we can certainly wonder, “Where is God?”
When we are confronted with disappointment and pain of all sorts that are part of life in the real world, we wonder, “Where is God?”
Jesus Christ is God’s answer to that question. God is in the manger. God is on the Cross. God is walking out of the tomb. God is here!
For me, today was a day of reassuring folks that God is here. First came the phone call this morning about the unexpected death. Then came the visit with a homebound member who wonders why God doesn’t do something about the constant pain. Then the next visit and the question, “Why did God take my husband?”
The reality is that God does not answer our “why” questions very often. We can talk about theology – about how there is evil in the world because of sin and free will and the influence of Satan, but I don’t think a discussion on theology is very comforting to someone who is hurting. Anyway, I don’t believe we can answer the question of why any particular thing happens to a particular person. Maybe we’ll get those answers in eternity; I’m hoping it won’t matter then when we live forever bathed in the light of God.
God doesn’t give us all the answers, but God always gives us . . . God. God loves us so much that God never leaves us alone to face any trial or tragedy. Yes, God is here, not just in a spiritual way but in ways we can experience with our senses. God is here in God’s Word that we hear together. God is present in the communion that we taste and see. We feel God’s touch here in the support of a gentle pat on the arm or on the shoulder. We can feel God’s love in a hug.
When Isaiah proclaims, “Comfort, comfort my people,” the source of that comfort is God’s abiding presence. In Romans we are promised that NOTHING can separate us from the love of God – nothing in life, and not even death. When you were baptized, God promised to live with you – to dwell in you – forever no matter what.
And God always keeps Gods promises.
Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God promises God’s people that the Messiah – God’s anointed Savior – is coming. God made the promise to Abraham when that father of God’s people was called – “All people of the world will be blessed through your descendent.” The promise was repeated again and again through the prophets.
And then . . . in Bethlehem over 1000 years after that promise to Abraham, over 2000 years ago from our perspective, those promises were fulfilled when an unmarried mother gave birth to a baby boy and laid him in a manger.
That baby boy was born into the real world – a world where a powerful empire, Rome, could cruelly dominate the Jewish people into which that boy was born. It was a world where a pregnant woman and her betrothed could not find anyone who would take them in, so they had to deliver their child in a place where animals fed. It was a world in which a cruel king – King Herod – would order all the children under two years old to be killed because of his jealousy and fear of the newborn king.
And it was a world in which that baby would grow up and be hung on a Cross until he died, even though he was the only person who ever lived who never sinned, who did not deserve death at all, much less to be humiliated and executed as a criminal.
Jesus is a real savior born into a real world – into the world in which we live. He was not immune to the disappointments and sadness and suffering and grief that we experience.
In fact that was kind of the point.
You see, whatever it is that we are going through, whatever it is that is interfering with our ability to celebrate Christmas whether in the news or in our lives or in our very being, Jesus understands. Because he’s been there.
Or more accurately, he’s been here.
And if you’re having trouble getting into the Christmas spirit, I don’t think Jesus is disappointed in you or angry at you or is critical of your faith. The reality is that when we struggle we get disappointed in ourselves and angry at ourselves and we wonder about our own faith.
But Jesus – that baby in the manger, that man on the Cross – Jesus only responds to our struggling with empathy and offers himself to us with those words that he said at the last supper and that we hear every time we receive communion:
Christmas . . . it’s For You. Not even though you’re struggling this Christmas, but especially if you are.