In recent decades, a new tradition has sprung up called “Blue Christmas.” Have you heard of it? Hospitals, funeral homes and churches sometimes offer a seasonal service of worship that is especially designed for those who grieve at a time when all the world seems to be celebrating. Or that’s how it started.
Very soon it became apparent that “those who grieve” are not the only group of people who feel alienated and alone during the month of December. Of those you know well, including yourself, how many have experienced a recent loss? How many are overwhelmed by fresh waves of grief, though their loss may have happened many years ago? How many are struggling financially? How many are distressed by family pressures, breakdowns, or conflicts? How many are lonely, suffering from illness, disappointed or hurting in some unnamed way—and made more aware of all this by the season? Is your list getting long? The truth is that we all experience challenges like these in varying degrees at different times in our lives. We all need space for “lamentation.”
Yes! We do! Today’s reading in Advent: Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room caught and held my attention. I think you’ll resonate with it too. Read on…
The Bible, and especially the Old Testament, is full of lamentation. Scripture doesn’t “sugarcoat” the human experience, nor does God ask his people to “turn that frown upside-down.” The psalms in particular set an example for us of how to bring every circumstance and emotion to the Father. The Bible’s prayers of lament echo the cries of our own hearts in times of distress
“Out of the depths we cry to you, O Lord!”
“We’ve known affliction, wandering, bitterness and gall, and our souls are downcast!”
“You have fed us with the bread of tears! Restore us!”
“Our souls are overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death… if it is possible, take this cup from us!”
There is—or there should be—a place for lamentation in our corporate prayers.The “Blue Christmas” service is a great idea. But I have a complaint to make of it. It implies that this one-day offering is for a small group of poor needy souls who just can’t seem to get into the Christmas spirit. It is typically removed from regular programming so as to allow the rest of the community to carry on with the party. But this, too, is part of the problem.
In the beautiful rhythm of the Christian calendar, space is made for both “feasts” (times of celebration) and “fasts” (times of prayerful reflection and penance). There can be a tendency today to embrace the feasts—like Christmas and Easter—but to reject the fasts. Or, in the case of Advent, to treat what was once a penitential season as a drawn-out celebration of Christmas—before Christmas actually arrives.
A faithful observance of Advent is one of quiet, sober reflection. It considers our darkness and our need. It lingers over psalms of lamentation. It remembers the long years of waiting for our salvation to appear. It examines God’s promises and his faithfulness in keeping those promises. And it directs us to anticipate Christ’s coming again, when our loving Father will wipe every tear from our eyes. In short, Advent is a season especially designed to resonate with those burdened by “blueness.” It is even a season designed to call those of us who do not feel “blue” to slow down, to pause, and to remember why the promise of Christ’s coming matters so much; and if we do not grieve ourselves, to take the time to “mourn” in solidarity with those who do (Romans 12:15).
As the world around us surges into a frenzied and festive December, let’s take a step away from the party and ask the Holy Spirit to prepare our hearts for a deeper and truer celebration of Christmas—one that is not undermined by lamentation, but that is made more potent because of it.
Posted with permission from the author.