All the world seems excited to celebrate Christmas with family and friends, holiday traditions, and the excitement of Christmas, but for others the holiday season is a struggle.
The reasons for feeling blue in the midst of all the holiday hype ranges from the loss of a spouse, family member, empty nest syndrome, health diagnosis, distance, loneliness and the list grows.
Churches have acknowledged that Advent and Christmas can be difficult and lead to depression, therefore, a Blue Christmas worship service has developed to help those struggling.
According to the UMC Discipleship website, “There is a growing attentiveness to the needs of people who are blue at Christmas. Increasing numbers of churches are creating sacred space for people living through dark times. Such services are reflective, accepting where we really are, and holding out healing and hope.”
The Blue Christmas worship is typically offered on the Winter Solstice which is Monday, December 21, the shortest day of the year. According to the world clock, our latitude indicates that there will be only about 9 hours and 28 minutes of daylight.
Admittedly I struggle, especially after the loss of my mother and a divorce all at once–and that was almost 30 years ago. Still, I had young kids and we powered through the life changes and celebrated as if nothing had changed.
Life hands us challenges consistently, and we muster through. That does not mean we honestly feel happy, we just ride the current that pushes us forward. How do we do it? With our faith in God.
On Monday, stop and reflect on how your faith sustains you throughout the wide range of life challenges. Take a few moments and consider not only how you manage, but those around you who struggle during the season.
When churches provide a Blue Christmas service, the most common reference in the Bible is to the story of Job. Remember how he maintained his faith despite all the challenges he endured. His friends kept thinking that he must have been doing something, sinning, that was causing God to punish him.
Yet Job lived faithfully throughout every challenge thrown at him. He was able to fend off the negative pressure from his friends. He trusted God. In the end, he was restored to the wealth and the success he had experienced before the challenges. His life was a living testimony to his friends how faith in God carries us out of the darkness and into the light.
Christmas is filled with the symbolism of light and maybe that is why we love the candles and all the light displays inside and outside our homes during these short days. Adam Hamilton speaks to the light of Christ in his book Incarnation:
“Darkness is most often (but not always) associated with evil, adversity, ignorance, despair, gloom, and even death. Light, on the other hand, is usually associated in scripture with God, goodness, joy, knowledge, hope, and life.” (p. 124)
Hamilton goes on to explain two forms of darkness, which during these shortest days of the year, seem to lend towards the second form he refers to as existential or situational darkness “. . . associated with grief, sadness or despair, or the feelings of being lost or unloved.” (p.126)
As December 21 gives way to the 22nd and then Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, look to the light. Know that God is the light and he pulls out of our darkness–even during a pandemic.
Hamilton defines Christmas as light: “Christmas is the celebration of light piercing our darkness, God’s light coming to us to enlighten our lives.” (p. 130)
The concept of the incarnation, God as human, is one of the most compelling arguments to celebrate Christmas. God loves us so much that he walked along side of us as the man Jesus Christ. He experienced all the life challenges we do, even the most horrific as he died on the cross so that we may believe in him and know that he is with us.
Hamilton challenges us to walk in God’s light and to share that light:
“Jesus is God’s Word to us. In that Word, we see not only the love of God, but the light of God illuminating our moral and existential darkness. Our task is to accept that light, to allow it to illuminate our lives, to walk in this light, and to then share this light with others.” (p.136)
I chose light even on the shortest, darkest day of the year. I know the challenges of darkness, but I look toward the light. Maybe that is why the words of John speak to me:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” –John 1:1-5
Please join me in prayer, not only for yourself but for all those feeling blue during this Advent season.
Dear Lord, our father and our light, thank you for shining bright even in the darkest of days. Guide us and enlighten our heaviness of spirit as we look to your glory and celebrate the birth of your son, Jesus Christ. –Amen.