A few strains of "Silent Night" drifted across the sparsely filled sanctuary. And I cried. "Silent Night" was the first Christmas carol that I learned by heart. As a child, I sat in the car waiting for my father, a veterinarian, to finish his work with a farmer. To amuse myself I would sing it to myself. I don't know if I was feeling sorry for myself or just feeling the blessing of being with others that had suffered loss and were struggling to celebrate this Christmas season. As hard as it was, I was glad I had come to the "Blue Christmas" service.
I mentioned to a few of you that I was thinking about attending the "Quiet Christmas" service in the Canadian Church I have been attending. Billed as "an intentional service placed amidst the busyness of the Christmas for those who might be finding the season difficult. Come and celebrate how 'the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.'" it had a quality that I found appealing.
For so many folks Christmas is a time of loss. Talking with a few others it seems that funeral directors often find an increase in deaths in the holiday season. People seem to want to make it to one last celebration. And when they do die, it makes Christmas a time of sadness and loss for those left behind. For others it is a time of increased awareness of social isolation. While all around are family get-togethers, business Christmas parties, parades, and pageants, but you aren't part of it. And that isn't even talking about the documented phenomenon of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) caused by the lack of exposure to sunlight. Blue Christmas indeed.
Initially I came because I was missing Yvette but as grief overwhelmed me I realized that losing my mother at 17, my child 36 hours after birth, and my father a few years ago all played into this sense of loss. "Silent Night" was the perfect song to capture this deep sense of loss. Each time I tried to join another line, a fresh wave of grief washed over me. My eyes were flooding, my nose was running, and I couldn't choke out more than a few words.
And then we came to that final phrase, "with the dawn of redeeming grace" and I realized the blessings of that "Holy Night."
The sermon was more of a reflection on the aspects of Christ's birth narrative from the gospels interspersed with stanzas from "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear." Of course I did have to chuckle a few times as the old familiar words disappeared into some unintelligible mumbo jumbo related to political correctness. "Goodwill to all" instead of "goodwill to men." works. "Warring humankind" replacing "And man, at war with man" not so much. Still I appreciate the effort at inclusiveness.
By beginning with Hope as expressed in Luke's narrative, the reflections reminded me that trust and faith begin with this tiny child in a manager two thousand years ago. Indeed though around us is a world filled with greed and selfishness, there is one who gives us hope. Hope that life will be better.
Moving into Matthew's account the reflection moved to Peace. In a season of struggle and busyness I was reminded that we have a choice to chose serenity. Deep peace in time when we are surrounded by chaos and change.
And finally we came to the light of John's gospel. In this dark time, both physically as we approach the solstice and spiritually as we contemplate loss in this season, we were encouraged to remember that darkness is overcome by light. We physically lit candles to remind us of the reality of light. Here there were some struggles with wooden slivers used to light the candles. Several grew into giant flames that caused people to drop them on the lace tableclothes. Then someone else in effort to control it blew out all the candles. A good chuckle and then we got things under control and the solemnity returned.
There was a time of prayer and blessing for prayer shawls that were distributed and the service began to draw to a close. The prayers were interspersed with a few words of reflection on the meaning of each of the Advent candles as they were lit. Hope, joy, love, and peace called us to new life in this season as we committed our fears to Christ who cares for us.
The service closed with "Away in a Manger" and I recalled all the pageants I had heard this song sung at. From my early years where my mother would often lead her young class in a rendition that had every one laughing at the antics, to Nathaniel's camel in one pageant plaintively asking "Are we there yet?" to Yvette's struggles to organize a Christmas pageant when she had never had to do that before. Somehow even though my voice was cracking at the emotion evoked by this song, I found a strength that had not been there at the beginning of the service.
Even though there was loss, the music and words brought back memories and I realized that in those memories lived on the people that were missing. That in some small way reflecting this Christmas season, there was indeed celebration. The gifts of the Magi have nothing on the memories that I have of blessings that each of these people have given me throughout the years.
Lest you think my Christmas will be completely blue, let me say that I sang in a magnificent Christmas cantata this morning and am sitting in the departure lounge waiting to fly to Edmonton to wander around the frozen North going to Saskatoon, Osler, someplace near Humboldt, then later down to Calgary where I will spend a couple of days with my sister, finally flying back to Abbotsford on the 2nd of January. I'm looking forward to spending time on the road with my sons and then good times with my brothers and their wives, nephews and their wives, and a ton of wee ones. Should be fun.
Season's greetings to all of you and thank you for your prayers.