Blue Christmas / Longest Night

matariki-the-pleiades-nzThe Christmas season is not always a happy time.

The Advent and Christmas seasons can remind us of loved ones or relationships we have lost. The sights and smells of the weeks approaching Christmas, rather than bring joy and delight, can bring sadness and grief.

A “Blue Christmas” service provides an opportunity to address the sadness, the pain of loss, and even the anger that can accompany the season.

Thoughts of a mother who attended two Blue Christmas services and now is looking forward to a third.  She writes this after hearing that others in the church feel the service is too much of ‘a downer’ at Christmastime.

Christmas has been very painful since my daughter died.  It isn’t just the day but the many weeks before, in which wherever I go I hear people talking about their preparations.  They talk excitedly about their children and grandchildren coming for Christmas, and every time I hear them it underlines for me that the person I most want to spend Christmas with isn’t coming home.  Is never coming home.  I hear them complaining about how busy they are while I have time on my hands. I feel invisible, like a ghost at the party.

I value a Blue Christmas service.  It’s a powerful statement, because for that hour the church is willing to set aside its own busyness and show that it cares about people like me, the ones who are drowning in tinsel, as well as those who are celebrating and happy.  My pain is acknowledged, there is a space for me, too.  It can’t make it OK – nothing could do that.  But it says YOU ARE NOT ALONE in your pain, and in doing so proclaims the message of Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us.  God with us in our suffering, our pain, our poverty, our loneliness, as well as in our blessings.  It stands against the compulsory good cheer of the season which is so oppressive to those who – for a whole range of reasons – are unable to share in the prevailing mood.  It is a profoundly Christian thing to do.    

Readings and prayers focus on the “light in the darkness,” the hope of our faith, not a hope that removes the suffering, but a hope that enables us to acknowledge our true feelings and walk through the dark days without fear.  This special service usually includes an opportunity to light a candle in memory of loved ones who have died.

When held on the winter solstice, 21 December, this service might be called “The Longest Night Service” or a “Solstice Service.”

Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.

— Mary Oliver (from Thirst, Beacon Press, Boston, 2006)

Blue Christmas resources:

God is with us in our suffering,

loving us, walking with us, comforting us.

I do not believe God is the cause or author of such suffering,

I do not believe God “allows” bad things to happen.

I can’t imagine why God would “allow” us to suffer.

I believe in a God who is always working for good,

a God who is somehow able

to take horrible, rotten things

and create something out of the rubble.

God came into the world

amidst violence, oppression, and despair

and was able to bring life from that darkness,

and I believe that God is with each one of us

in our challenges and suffering,

comforting us and consoling us

and trying to bring good

out of that which was so bad.

And that is what I think makes God, God.

 

Chichester Cathedral, UK
Chichester Cathedral, UK

A dramatic monologue including Mary, mother of Jesus, and a Narrator

 

Life often overwhelms me.
My boy is dead.
Killed.
Things were going along fairly smoothly until I was fourteen.
I got pregnant, and I did not even know who the father was.
Luckily Joseph, good kind Joseph,
he did not have me cast out or stoned,
but took me as his wife.
But then the pregnancy was hard,
as I had to travel for the census.
My poor child was born on the straw being fed to a cow,
filling the beast’s manger.
Not even a bed for us.
Life has been hard.
Then King Herod went crazy!
He had all the little boys killed.
I was so afraid for my baby.
Joseph wisely had us flee to Egypt.
But I didn’t know the language,
or the customs of the people.
I was always a foreigner there.
Everything was so strange.
Things seemed to return to normal
when we returned to Nazareth.
But life was always precarious under the Romans.
Now my boy is dead.
Killed.
The darkness seems to want to wrap itself around me.
God, I know you are with me.
But today you feel so far away.

(Mary freezes, eyes down. Narrator continues.)

The story of the first Christmas is not really a happy story,
but a story about life in the real world.
Unwed, pregnant and only fourteen years old.
Not a happy start to the story, or a relationship.
A country under occupation, a cruel ruler.
No security. No peace.
Not a happy setting for a story, or a new family.
The slaughter of innocent children.
For the people in Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus would always remind them of the army that massacred their children.
Then Joseph’s frightened little family, flees for their lives to a strange land.
Not a happy story.
Mary, mother of Jesus, may her faith through her darkness shine light into our lives.

Click here for a Blue Christmas full service pdf download
A one-hour reflective service for a December afternoon or evening
16 readers (or double-up if fewer readers are available)

Order of Service

Welcome “Why are we here?”

Gathering Words

Lighting the Christ candle

Call to Worship (from Isaiah 9)

Opening Prayer

Reading   Isaiah 40

Song/hymn   How can we sing a joyful song? by Carolyn Winfrey Gillette

Poem   “The Uses of Sorrow” by Mary Oliver

Reflection  —  A thoughtful message for the occasion

One possibility– Mary – dramatised, by Ana Gobledale
Life often overwhelms me. My boy is dead. Killed….
The story of the first Christmas is not really a happy story,
but a story about life in the real world….

Reading   Lamentations 3:1-3, 19-26 NRSV

Song/hymn

A Liturgy of Light & Remembering  — the invitation is extended to anyone who wishes to come forward and light a tea candle in memory of a someone who has died or to recognize the pain of another type of loss.

Lighting first candle– to remember those whom we have loved and lost…

Lighting second candle– to redeem the pain of loss; the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health…

Lighting third Candleto remember and give thanks for those who have supported and comforted us during our dark time…

Reading     Matthew 5:3-12a

Song/hymn

Lighting fourth Candleto remember our faith and the gift of hope which the Christmas story offers to us…

Prayer

Lord’s Prayer (optional)

Benediction

The light has splintered the darkness, Hope is ours once more….

Song/hymn     Silent Night

Go from this holy time and space, filled with hope, peace and love, God’s gift to us all. Amen.

Preparation and set-up: The worship space is important.  See suggestions on pdf download.

“The darkness is at one and the same time a comforting and a frightening place. It is the place where we dream, where our hearts and minds wander towards the divine, where we imagine what our life and the lives of those around us might one day become. It is also the place where our fears come to life, where we dread the future, worry over our decisions, and where our vulnerabilities feel most profound… Into the dark and forgotten places of our world, into the parts of our lives we fear or worry about, and into the darkness of our hearts, into the places which we can hardly bear to recognise, the light comes.”

The service includes these readings:

Wisdom 9:9-11

1 Corinthians 2:1-7

Luke 1:76-79

Isaiah 42:5-7

Luke 4:16-20

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Luke 1:26-35

Jeremiah 31:31-33

Revelation 22:1-5, 20