This is a picture I created for use as a facebook cover photo for Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas.
Monthly Archives: December 2012
I love holding babies. I have held many babies. Countless times I have held a baby in my arms, and looked down and wondered, “What will this child be?” I can think of no act in life that is more full of hope then holding a baby. I held each of my daughters within minutes of their birth. Each time I was filled with awe and wonder. Each time was a holy moment beyond explanation.
This year at Advent I have rediscovered Zachariah. I’ve been a Dad for a few years, but for some reason I’ve always been drawn to Mary’s song. I wrote last year at Advent about preparing for the coming of a child. This Advent though, I have been drawn to Zechariah’s prophecy when his son was born.
Zechariah praised God when his son was born. He praised God for the promises that God made. He praised God for the promises that God kept. He praised God for the promise that was in his son. For he knew that his son was created for a purpose. He knew that his son would be called a prophet. He knew that his son would “go before the Lord to prepare a way.” He knew that is son would “tell the people how to be saved through the forgiveness of their sins.” Zechariah was filled with joy at the birth of his son, so he praised God.
But I’m here to tell you that God rejoices no less for you than did Zechariah for his son. Zechariah so loved his son that he could glimpse him through God’s eternal eyes. God so loves you that he has laid out a path for you to follow. God has given you something that makes you uniquely you. There is something in you that transcends employment, labels, gender, race, or status. God has created you with a purpose, and is calling you to that purpose today. You were created to do no less than John once did – to prepare the way of the Lord, and “to show the people the way to salvation through the forgiveness of sins.”
God has called you to your life. Let it speak. Let nothing get in the way of being the person that you are. Zachariah claimed in his prophecy that through the birth of Jesus, “we have been rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear.” We need no longer fear. We need no longer hide from God or from each other. We are free to use the gifts that God has granted us for God’s purposes. We can serve God in our homes, in our churches, and in our workplace. We can serve God with our hearts, hands, feet, and minds. We are free to love God, because it is only in freedom that love is possible. We are free to love ourselves because we know that we were created in the image of the God that is love. We are free to love one another because God has called us to do no less.
Fear is powerful. Fear can be overwhelming. When we sit in the shadow of death, fear can be crippling.
Many of us have experienced that kind of fear. We have experienced that kind of sorrow or loss. When the chaos of the world is too much to bear, we sit in the shadow. When the diagnosis is positive, and the prognosis is not optimistic, we sit in the shadow. When the job is lost and the source of the next check is a mystery, we sit in the shadow. When we fail to love as we were called to love, we sit in the shadow. When thousands of children die from undernourishment or preventable disease, we sit in the shadow. When a man breaks through the sanctuary of a school and shatters the lives of innocents, we sit in the shadow.
Though some would claim that God does not go where God is not wanted, such a claim stands in direct opposition to the claim of Christmas. The claim of Christmas is that God goes where God is not expected and is not wanted. God goes where it one time seemed impossible. God breaks through the cosmos, tears through the curtain, crumbles our dividing walls, and makes the audacious and spectacular claim that God was made flesh. God was a baby.
The claim of Christmas is that God broke through the darkness. As Zachariah said, “Because of God’s compassion, the dawn from heaven will break upon us, to give light to those who are sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide us on the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79 CEB)
Through our freedom, humanity has created many dark and terrible places. The shadow of death at times looms large over our world, but in the midst of darkness a baby is born.
Zachariah saw a great purpose in his son’s life. People wondered, “What then will this child be?” John grew to be the voice in the wilderness that cried out, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
What then will you be? For what purpose have you been created? Use what you have been given to do as John did. Prepare the way of the Lord. Show people the way of salvation. Find those that sit in the shadow of death, and sit next to them. Hold their hand. Weep with them. Give them love. Show them the light, and declare that the dawn is coming. Declare that the dawn is coming, and let the Holy Spirit guide us on the path of peace.
Let Your Life Speak is one of my favorite books. It was written by Parker Palmer.
I hope, LORD. My whole being hopes, and I wait for God’s promise. My whole being waits for my Lord—more than the night watch waits for morning; yes, more than the night watch waits for morning!” (Psalm 130:1-2, 5-6 CEB)
Today I stared at a picture of kindergarten students in tears being lead away from a nightmare. Tears poured down my face, and my body shook with grief. I cry out to you from the depths, Lord. How long must we wait?
There is so much wrong with our world. There is so much pain. There are so many people hurting. Sometimes I feel like it would be easier to just close my eyes and hide. I cry out to you from the depths, Lord. How long must we wait?
All I want to do is go to my daughters. I want to take my oldest from her kindergarten. Hold her. Smell her hair. Brush her cheek. Fit them both on my lap and wrap them in my arms and never let go. I cry out to you from the depths, Lord. How long must we wait?
The sadness of this day seems magnified by the season. But there is no need to magnify this kind of pain. It is as big as we can handle on its own. For me, it is Christmas that makes endurance possible. When the world tells me again that there is no hope, I cling to the last strand I’ve got. There is hope in the Lord. There is hope in a baby. There is hope for light in darkness, and hope for healing in the midst of despair.
Still, I cry out. I cry out of the depths. My tears flow. My body trembles, and I wonder, “how long, Lord? How long?”
This is a liturgy I wrote for a service I have called either a “Blue Christmas” service or a “Longest Night” service. Where I am, the longest night of 2012 will begin at 4:35 on Friday, December 21. If you are a worship leader, I suggest you start this service half an hour before sunset. Send out letters now to all families that have had funerals in the last year, and also to local hospital chaplains. I believe this is a beautiful way to make space for those that mourn at Christmas. You have permission to use as much or as little of this as you wish. I’d appreciate a small credit somewhere in the bulletin. If you plan on using it, I’d love it if you told me in the comments section.
Set in a prominent place in the sanctuary should be vase with water and dead, gray sticks coming out of it. Each person, as they enter, shall be given a blue or purple carnation or rose. These probably need to be ordered ahead of time, as most florists do not have them on hand. Placed around the vase may be votive candles as well as the bread and cup for Communion.
The candles for the Advent wreath should be lit before the service. If this service is held on the Longest Night, the fourth Advent candle – the candle of love has probably been lit. Later in the service, each person will be invited to take the flame from the candle of love – which cannot be extinguished by death- and light a votive for the person/persons they mourn. They then place a blue carnation in the vase amongst the dead sticks. After all have placed in the vase, it becomes quite a beautiful winter arrangement. This arrangement can be left in an inconspicuous place in the sanctuary for the Christmas Eve celebration.
Music can be used in this service, but as an undertone to set the mood. If you have a musician available, then they can play calming music at the beginning of the service, and possibly some recognizable hymns (not Christmas carols) during Communion. One song that is suggested can be played as a CD, but permission from the artist must still be granted. I do not have the right to grant usage rights, it is merely a suggestion because I think it is a beautiful song.
Words of Welcome
The Advent season is one of wonder. For so many it is a time of hopeful anticipation. It is a season of promise. The longer nights and the gray clouds seem to provide the perfect background for the lights and the tinsel. The decorations are everywhere we turn. For so many, this is a time of hopeful anticipation. But for many of us, especially those of us gathered here, Christmas is a harsh reminder of life that once was. So we gather not so much in hopeful anticipation, but in the cloud of despair. While so many are ready to sing “Joy to the World,” we gather as those that mourn. We gather now to carve out a time of quiet reflection. We gather to shed tears if they come, to hold hands if they are available, and to know that we are not alone. Whether this is the first Christmas without someone you love, or if you seem to be hurting from loss for as long as you remember, We gather to be reminded that it is okay to mourn, even at Christmas.
Prayer for those that mourn at Christmas
In this season of anticipation, we seek the comfort of the Holy Spirit. We ask for your blessing this night upon those that mourn, for the pain at Christmas seems sharper. We remember the words of Jesus, who promised comfort to those that mourn. All around us are reminders of the joy that the world tells us we are supposed to be feeling. Forgive us, O God, for not joining in the celebration with our whole hearts. Guide us now, O Holy One, that we may move in still small steps from mourning to comfort. Help us to find healing in the midst of the pain, and order in the midst of chaos. Lighten our burden. Give us rest. Amen
Song – “Come to Me,” by Christopher Grundy (or another song)
Words of Grace
The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to the faithful. For the Lord knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon the faithful, and the righteousness of the Lord to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. (Psalm 103: 8, 13-14, 17-18)
Matthew 11:28-30 (Common English Version)
“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”
John 14:1-4, 16-20, 25-27 (Common English Version)
“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going…
I will ask the Father, and he will send another Companion who will be with you forever. This Companion is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world can’t receive because it neither sees him nor recognizes him. You know him, because he lives with you and will be with you. I won’t leave you as orphans. I will come to you. Soon the world will no longer see me, but you will see me. Because I live, you will live too. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, you are in me, and I am in you…
I have spoken these things to you while I am with you. The Companion, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I told you. Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.”
On Christmas Eve churches everywhere will be filled with happy people. The lights will be on, the poinsettias arranged, the sweaters will be bright, and the smiles will be wide. People will gather in the pews and sing the traditional carols, hear the Christmas story, and light candles. Millions on Christmas Eve night will rise and sing “Joy to the World.”
Many of those same people that will rise and sing on December 24 will go to bed on December 21 and face the longest night of the year in despair. There will be many that lie down wondering, “Where is the joy?” For people that are hurting, struggling, or mourning, the longest night of the year is so very long.
The bills have not been paid, the credit debt is mounting, and work is hard to come by. The night is so very long.
My mother died at this time of the year. Christmas won’t be the same. I miss her smile. I miss her words of wisdom. I miss her so much, and the night is so very long.
For the last 53 Christmases I have been with my husband. He held me in his arms as we watched the children, then the grandhcildren, open their presents. He made hot cocoa every Christmas morning. I do not even know the recipe, and the night is so very long.
The onesies I got for Christmas last year are put in a box in the attic. Never worn. Never held. I miss my child and I never held him in my arms, and the night is so very long.
The night can be so very long. The night can be so very dark and cold.
Some say that everything happens for a reason. God is in control, and has a plan. But what kind of God could plan such things? Is this the God that I am supposed to celebrate? Is this the God that I am supposed to worship? How can I sing “Joy to the World,” when there is none in my own heart?
Christmas does not mean everything is okay. Christmas did not end the sadness, the pain or the despair. For those that are hurting at Christmas, I hope you know that you are not alone. I do not offer you simple platitudes. I do not offer you easy answers. All I can offer you is my love.
I don’t think that everything happens for a reason. I think there are terrible things that happen every day that God did not plan. If it this were not so, then why would Jesus ask us to pray for God’s will to be done? I also think that God gives us the power and the grace to overcome even the worst that can happen. God gives us the chance to heal and be healed; to feed and be fed; to love and be loved.
The longest night can be so very long. Christmas does not end the night, but it gives us hope for the dawn.
When we leave this place, it will be into the longest night of the year. Take this time, and claim it, but do not linger here. Know that tomorrow the night will be shorter. Know that soon, the light of God will break through. Know that on Christmas, God broke through the chaos. Know that on Christmas, God came to life so that we may have life abundant and life eternal.
We gather here today to acknowledge that our pain is real. We acknowledge that death has its place in the world, but it is not in a place of triumph. Death has been swallowed up in victory.
Act of Remembrance and Communion
We gather in this place with signs all around. The Advent wreath has been lit, with the lights of hope, peace, joy, and love already lit as we prepare the way of the coming of Jesus. If, as the Bible says, God is love, and God is eternal, then love is eternal as well. Tonight, we are reminded that nothing can extinguish the candle of love. The love that God has for us is steadfast and endures forever. The love that we have for those we mourn cannot be extinguished by death.
In front of us are sticks. This collection of dead sticks is here as a reminder that we are always surrounded by death. The cycle of life to death is in all of creation. When you entered, you were given a blue carnation. This carnation is a sign of those for whom you mourn. Blue is a traditional color for sadness. It is also a traditional color for the Advent season. These carnations remind us that even as we prepare for Christ’s coming, there is room for the human reality of sadness.
Also in front of us are the bread and the cup. These are the elements of our Lord’s Last Supper. It was a supper he shared with his disciples when he knew that his life on earth was coming to an end. The bread, which is for us the body of Christ, is broken. It reminds us of our human frailty, and of our unity as the Body of Christ. The cup, which is for us the blood of Christ, is shed. It reminds us of the Christ’s death on a cross, and of the forgiveness that is offered to all.
On this, the longest night of the year, we are reminded of just how dark the world can be. Yet it was into this dark world that Christ was born. It was in the midst of death and destruction that a child came so that we may have life. We gather at Christ’s table in remembrance of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We remember that Jesus walked with us as the Word of God made flesh.
He healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the afflicted, comforted the mourning, worked for justice, and wept for his friends. He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and calls all people to enter with rejoicing. He came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly, and he invites us all into life eternal. By the baptism of his love, compassion, suffering, death, and resurrection Christ gave birth to his Church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit.
When Jesus gathered with his disciples, he took the bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said, “Take eat, this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
When the supper was over Jesus took the cup, gave thanks to God, gave it to his disciples and said, “Drink from this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
And so, in remembrance of these mighty acts of Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and grape. Make them be for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ, that we may be for the world the body of Christ, redeemed by Christ’s blood. By your spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other, one with the great communion of saints, one with the great cloud of witnesses, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory, and we all feast at his heavenly banquet. Through your Son Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in your Holy Church, all honor and glory is yours now and forever, and so with the confidence of children we pray:
“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen”
Come now to the table of Christ, for all things are ready. After you receive the bread and the grape juice, please pick up a votive candle and light it from the candle of Love. You may also then place your carnation into the vase.
Blessing and Sending Forth
This arrangement, which was once barren and gray, was only a reminder of death. Now it is something beautiful. It is a reminder that God take all things and make them new. Death is a part of our human experience. It was a part of Jesus’s human experience. But death is never the final chapter. The despair of death may last, but we are never called to linger on it. Go now into the night knowing that you need not go alone. Go now into the night knowing that the dawn is coming. Go now into the night knowing that love endures forever. Go now into the night knowing that the Christ child will come. Go now, and may the peace of Jesus Christ, the peace that surpasses all understanding, be with you. Amen.