“This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” John 11:4
It’s Christmas Eve.
This can be a special and magical and spiritual time of year – if we want it to be. There is, of course, the madness and silliness of the season but there still can be the wonder and mystery of what is out there and what is in us. I know there is evil and violence all around us – there will be even during this otherwise very Western and commercial holiday. But even so, I am able – I hope you can, too – to find some peace and rest and comfort during the next few days.
Of course, our family developed and accidentally created many holiday traditions over the years. Frankly, this year I am trying to not think about those too much. It is hard, I guess – still pretty raw. But regardless, I do like this time of year – the music, sounds, friends, family, tastes. I guess this is all bigger than any one person or one thing.
And I suppose that is what I am leaning on for the next few days – this all is and will be bigger than me and my hurts and losses. This time of year can transcend what has happened to me this past year. I still see the little ones laughing and running. I still see the snow falling. I still hear the songs and smell the smells. I still can sense wonder and grace and calmness.
I have been reading recently about what are called ‘Blue Christmas’ services or “Longest Night’ services that are often presented by churches this time of year. These services are sensitive to those who are grieving and are experiencing loss and pain. I like this idea.
From an organization who has helped me the past few months, Stephen Ministries, a brief description of a ‘Longest Night’ service that was held several evenings ago in Delaware:
Held on the longest night of the year, just before Christmas, this service is open to anyone in the congregation or in the community who has suffered a loss. The candlelight and the beautiful stained glass of the music center set the tone for a quiet, meditative service.
“When they arrive, they are closed, into themselves, carrying their pain,” said Dawn Gent, Stephen Leader and Stephen Minister. “Most come alone. Everyone walks in there in the bubble—the pain bubble—and finds a space separate from other people. They don’t know how upset they are going to get so they want to make sure they have some space.”
“We read a litany that begins ‘This is the season of love and joy and family’; the response is ‘but not for us,’” Dawn said.
During the service a bell rings for each member of the congregation who has died that year. At the close of the service, each person is invited to come to the table at the front of the room, light a candle, and speak the name of the person he or she has lost.
“The first year I attended the service was the year my mother had died,” Dawn said. “That first year I couldn’t get up there; I could not walk to the table and light the candle. But the next year I was seated next to a woman who was clearly as grieving and hesitant as I was. I turned to her and said, ‘Last year I couldn’t do it, but I think together we could walk up there.’ And we did.
“The most moving moment, and the hardest part for me, was speaking the name out loud,” Dawn said. “When I was able to say the name, it gave me a sense of closure.”
The service concludes with a small reception. “It gives everyone an opportunity for sharing, for caring, for moments of quiet to watch the flickering flames,” Dawn said. “It is beautiful.
“People look transformed. They have been able to express something that has been locked up inside. They’ve had a chance to say good-bye. They feel a lift of their burden.”
I know this isn’t for everyone. And it isn’t meant to be, of course. But it is where I am right now so I find interest in activities like this. Yes, I did look for a ‘Blue Christmas’ service locally but was unable to find one. That is ok – nothing lost. But I completely understand the motivation behind what some good people are trying to do for those who hurt – and I appreciate it.
So, it is Christmas Eve and I hope you can spend some quality time with friends and family. I hope for you a special evening – even in the hubbub of life that spins uncontrollably around us. Enjoy and appreciate your blessings. And for you, a colorful blue reminder of the season…
God is good and God is big and – if we believe – he will never abandon us.