Blue Christmas: A quiet, reflective service for those of us who are grieving, lonely, sad, not feeling particularly festive, or just in need of a time of quiet in the busy-ness of the season.
These words were on the poster we used to advertise our Blue Christmas services in Estes Park, Colorado at the church where I was the pastor from 2015-2020. The photo is of the communion table setup that Denise created for our Colorado services. As the community gathered each year in the sanctuary, they were thankful that they had permission to struggle and grieve or to simply “be still” in the midst of the “busiest time of the year.”
This year, or rather the past nineteen months (and counting), has been a challenge for our family. In August of 2020 we packed up our condo and moved from Colorado to Georgia where I began a new pastoral call. COVID made that journey “interesting” to say the least. We mourned not being able to say proper farewells to our church and friends in our small mountain town. Moving to a new community and trying to get to know parishioners when services were virtual and COVID was surging was challenging for both of us. And we had no idea what 2021 would hold for us as we watched the calendar change on December 31st, 2020.
In January Denise lost one of her closest and dearest friends to cancer. The day after we went to Joyce’s graveside, Denise’s former mother-in-law Betty (who remained a very close and dear friend) fell in her apartment. That began a long and difficult seven-month journey for Betty and her family. At the end of July, my dad George fell and was admitted to the hospital with a serious UTI. We immediately drove to Minnesota to see him in the hospital and assist him with his transition to rehab. Denise decided to stay behind to help dad, to support him, and to be his advocate. We had to leave him in mid-August when Denise’s father Roland had a serious stroke and was hospitalized and sent to rehab. Betty passed away on September 1st and Roland passed away on September 16th. Between those two trips we went back to Minnesota to move dad from rehab into memory care. He spent two miserable weeks there. Finally, we drove back to Minnesota and were able to get dad moved out of memory care and back into assisted living. Over the course of caring for our dads and burying Betty we drove over 14,000 miles (our dog Pixie was our constant companion on the road).
In October, Denise began the slow process of clearing out the three apartments that her dad had rented and filled up with paperwork, furniture, food, and other assorted things. She is gone four days a week as she works hard to settle his estate and sort through paperwork and possessions. This has been incredibly difficult for both of us. In the middle of this journey and while Denise was in Alabama, on November 9th our precious Pixie died of congestive heart failure. Denise and I were and still are heartbroken.
Denise recently wrote these words as she reflected on this season in our lives and Christmas. “As we reflect on the past twenty-one months, we have both realized just how exhausted we are by all that has happened and what continues to unfold in our lives. It has been a challenge for me to look beyond our own situation in life to see the light and hope in this season. Winter solstice, the longest night of the year in the northern hemisphere seems to be an appropriate time to pause, worship, and remember the birth of the one who recognizes our pain and sorrow, who knows what it feels like to be tired, angry, stressed, pulled in multiple directions, deserted, frazzled, and all the other emotions we may be feeling as Christmas approaches. Blue Christmas gives us permission to struggle and acknowledge that this may not be ‘the happiest season of the year.’”
“Christmas seems to be getting lost in the piles of life. Not life as in, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6 NRSV) but life as in, life is hard and messy and exhausting. Jesus’ birth like any birth was hard and messy and exhausting. Christmas is hard and messy and exhausting.”
I have been reflecting on the experiences of the holy family during this Advent season. Sitting in silence with Mary and Joseph, I imagine the difficulty and messiness they experienced throughout their lives. I also heard the message of hope that their son Jesus would later share with the world. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV) Blue Christmas offers us a chance to share our burdens with the Lord and with each other. Dear reader, as you reflect on the longest night, may “the light that shines in the darkness” (John 1:5 NRSV) guide you through this season, and every day and night of the year.