Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Blue Christmas

Our Clergy Fellowship (local ministerial) has been offering a "Blue Christmas" service for a few years in conjunction with our two local funeral homes. I've never been to one of the services. Actually, before this year I was never very involved with the Clergy Fellowship. It just wasn't my scene and I felt out of place because the group didn't seem to have a lot of participation of the mainline clergy.

I decided to give the group a better chance. I'm feeling more at home even though there still aren't many mainliners participating. I guess I'm learning some tolerance and/or acceptance and following the Lund principle. "Should not our churches ask themselves whether they are showing sufficient eagerness to enter into conversation with other churches, and whether they should not act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately?"

Well, tonight is the "Blue Christmas" service, being held at the Pentecostal church, and the organizer called me YESTERDAY and asked if I'd preach. Here's the sermon I came up with yesterday. I need to explain that at a certain point in the service families will come forward and light a candle in memory of a loved one who died and place it in some sort of container of sand (like I said I've never been to one of these services before).

Blue Christmas Service
December 12, 2006
Isaiah 9.2
Thomas Arth

In our home we usually have some candles set out
on tables, shelves, the mantle, on the piano,
even on the TV cabinet.
At this time of year
as we decorate for the coming celebration of Christmas
we put out even more candles
and now we actually light them.
The rest of the year they’re usually just decorations
but now we use them.
They’re still mainly decorations
but we light them to create a mood,
to provide some Christmas-y atmosphere.
Some churches observe the season of Advent
on the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas Day.
In our church and in our home we have Advent wreaths
that hold 4 candles for those 4 Sundays.
This past Sunday was the Second Sunday of Advent
and we lit 2 of the candles on the wreath.
The light grows as we approach Christmas.

Here, tonight, we have candles lit.
These candles are symbols of another reality.
Most of us are gathered here
because we have recently lost a loved one.
Someone has died.
So this Advent and Christmas season is different for you
from any that have come before.
The Advent candles we light in our churches and homes
are signs of something that is coming.
The candles we lit here tonight
are signs of something and someone gone.

For some of you the loss may be fresh,
having recently happened.
For others, your loved one may have died months ago,
maybe close to a year.
And people who were very attentive at the time,
friends and neighbours who were very thoughtful and helpful,
have put the experience behind them and moved on,
and may wonder when you’ll get around to moving on,
to getting on with your life.
I say to you, take the time you need.
You’re going through a lot of firsts.
Some may have already passed but others are coming.
A first Thanksgiving without your loved one.
A first birthday or anniversary
and now the first Christmas without him or her.
It takes time to grieve, to mourn,
you can’t just turn off your emotions or shut out your memories.
It can be hard work.
There are traditions that will have to change.
Someone new might have to say the blessing at Christmas dinner.
Someone else will have to string the lights
or put a special ornament on the tree.

A friend once compared the death of a loved one to a wound.
A cut will eventually heal, but it takes time.
Some wounds take longer to heal than others.
And even when it has healed, a scar remains.
There will always be memories,
reminders of the father or mother, wife or husband,
brother or sister,
grandmother or grandfather or friend who died.
And some of those memories will bring a smile.
Some of those memories will bring a tear.
And some will bring both at the same time.

At Christmas time
we sometimes use one of those twenty-five-cent words
that you normally don’t hear outside of church.
That’s what we really celebrate at Christmas.
The Incarnation.
God came down from heaven and put on flesh,
become one of us.
We believe that God came among us, first, as that baby
born in a barn and put to bed in an animal feeding trough
because no one thought to give this young homeless couple
a room for the night.
And that baby boy grew to be a man,
suffering all the same things along the way that we suffer.
We don’t hear anything about his father Joseph
later in the gospel stories,
so we assume he died at some point during Jesus’ young life.
He knew about the grief of losing a parent,
the time of mourning,
the healing of that wound.
Later he would suffer even more unspeakable things
out of love for the whole world.
All of this was the result of the Incarnation.
Love came down
and God laughed, and wept just like we all do.

We heard a reading from Isaiah.
"The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined."
Those words were spoken centuries before Jesus showed up
in that stable in Bethlehem.
But now we recognize him in those words.
Darkness and light.
We all have darkness in our lives.
When a loved one dies it becomes so much more intense.
But there is a light at the end of the tunnel,
and it’s not an oncoming train.
It’s our Lord coming to embrace us and comfort us.
Yesterday I was reading another passage
from a later portion of Isaiah that says
"Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God."
There is comfort for God’s people.
There is light in our darkness.
There is healing for our pain.

I begin every funeral service with these words:
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the source of all mercy and the God of all consolation.
He comforts us in all our sorrows
so that we can comfort others in their sorrows
with the consolation we ourselves
have received from God."
This Christmas when a chair at the dinner table
or a pew in church sits empty
or a tradition has been passed on to someone else,
you may shed some tears.
That is, you might shed some tears,
and I’m saying "you may shed some tears."
Someone might come and tell you not to cry,
and they’ll mean well so don’t bite their heads off.
But I’m telling you to go ahead and cry.
Your healing takes time
and that time might not be over for you.
But know that there is hope
and there is love through our Lord Jesus Christ
who brings light into our darkness
and comfort in our sorrows.
Your Christmas will be different,
and we pray
that your Christmas may be blessed.

1 comment:

LutherPunk said...

There was an article in The Lutheran about this type of service in the most recent issue. It was pretty good. I hope your sermon was well received.