I was living in Canada in the fall of 1977 when both Elvis Presley and Bing Crosby died in August and October respectively. As December approached that year, someone commented that we could have neither a Blue Christmas nor a White Christmas.
This is a time of year when the culture tells you to be merry. Houses are decorated, office parties and social events abound, television fills itself with Christmas specials both young and old, and I anticipate hearing a young James Stewart shout, “Merry Christmas, Bedford Falls!”
For many, the manufactured cheer of the season cannot overcome a sense of loss. Perhaps someone is missing this year, perhaps there is an illness clouding the merriment, perhaps a change in economic status is dimming the lights, and the feeling of the blues makes us feel like we have failed Christmas.
Last week, we heard from a confidently defiant John shouting “Prepare the way of the Lord!” This week, we jump ahead a few chapters to find John in prison questioning who Jesus is. Confidence has turned to doubt and hope may be out of reach.
We get very focused on that stable in Bethlehem; the angels and the shepherds sing together. When the baby grows into a man under the thumb of Roman domination, doubt and despair replace the triumphant songs. Jesus is not a victorious conqueror. Instead, Jesus is Emmanuel, “God with Us,” who does not wipe away sadness but instead accompanies us through it.
Hope can be defiant, but it can also be elusive. We’re dong something different this year. On Wednesday, December 21 we are having a “Blue Christmas.” No, it has nothing to do with Elvis. December 21st is the longest night of the year, and we will gather to seek healing through the sharing of grief, loss and disappointment. It will be a time to step away from the hurry of the season, to gather quietly, to sing together, to light candles and together to find some solace and hope. The service will begin at 7:00. Our friend, Pastor Steve Holm will be our preacher. I hope you can join us.
Here is the poem, I Will Light Candles this Christmas by educator Howard Thurman who served as dean of the chapel at both Howard University and Boston University:
I will light Candles this Christmas;
Candles of joy despite all sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all the year long.