There’s a new kind of worship service that has become popular at some churches in the last couple of years: a “Blue Christmas” service. These services are opportunities for those who are sad, burdened, lonely or hurting to come and express themselves honestly, instead of conforming to the cultural pressure to plaster on a Christmas-is-the-merriest-season-of-the-year fake smile.
While the Blue Christmas services are new to some congregations, facing our hurt and grief in December is not new to the church throughout the generations. In fact, Advent, the four-week period before Christmas, is a time when the church across the globe has historically encouraged us to face the hurt and grief in our own lives and in our world. Every year during Advent and Christmas, we read the prophecy in Isaiah 9
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
We read those words, light our Advent candles, and rejoice that Jesus is the light of the world. But we cannot forget where the light shines. It shines in the darkness. In order to deeply celebrate the coming of the Light, we must face the darkness. Said another way, at Christmas we celebrate that Jesus was born for us. During Advent, we look honestly at the question, “Why did Jesus need to come?” The answer is that Jesus came because we live in darkness – a darkness that is inside of us and all around us that cannot be illuminated by human effort, ingenuity, or even human love. We need the Light outside of us, that shines by the power of the God who is Love, to push back the darkness all around us.
Perhaps this year more than ever, with COVID-19 pressing us into lonely corners and revealing the woundedness of our communities, we need to embrace Advent. This is not to say that we should wallow in the misery of darkness. Rather, we face the darkness honestly and with the hope we have in Christ. We pour out our hearts to the Lord, trusting that He hears us, is with us, and is making all things new and bright.
This Advent consider being honest with the Lord about the darkness. Consider pouring out to Him all that is not right. These resources may help you to do so:
- How Long? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NxOzeBcNb0 This musical selection, created by Heather Thomsen Tang and Michael Anderson, is based on Psalm 13, a prayer of lament to the Lord. As you listen, let yourself feel all the emotions, and turn them to the Lord.
- Worship Service of Lament https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mIL0k1MGEU This summer during our Psalm series, Heather Thomsen Tang and Michael Anderson created a service for us to lament together, following Psalm 13. Revisiting this service, and remembering that we cry out together, may be a good way to face the darkness this Advent.
- Walking in the Darkness Home Worship Guide – Linked here. Two years ago, we had an Advent service focused on “walking in the darkness.” It was also, to that point in time, the only service we canceled due to weather. A home worship service was created with a plethora of resources. Revisiting this service would be an excellent way to face the darkness with hope.
- Want to Get Into the Christmas Spirit? Face the Darkness. Tish Harrison Warren, an Anglican priest, wrote a wonderful (and short!) article in the New York Times last year that may also be of encouragement to you: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/30/opinion/sunday/christmas-season-advent-celebration.html
There is a great gift in facing the darkness during Advent. When we stop pretending the hurt and the grief doesn’t exist or isn’t’ that bad, and instead face it, we also remember that the Light has come in Jesus Christ. That light can never be extinguished. As John put it: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” The Light came once, in Jesus birth, and the Light will come again. When Jesus returned, all darkness will be vanquished. Until that day we can honestly pour out our hearts to the Lord and trust that His light is spreading. Thanks be to God!