Over the last few years, I’ve heard of more and more congregations offering a Blue Christmas, or Longest Night, worship service during the third week of December. These services often coincide with the Winter Solstice which is the day with the least amount of daylight for those of us in the northern hemisphere. These services are often opportunities to recognize the myriad of emotions that holidays create. It’s an opportunity for those who may be missing loved ones or not feeling so jolly, to acknowledge their feelings, to hold their grief, and be reminded that the promise of Jesus comes even for them. Jesus enters into a messy world even when we don’t feel like celebrating and that’s ok. It’s acceptable to feel blue in a season of loss, change, finding ways to let go of old traditions and making way for new ones.
This year, my congregation is using the book of Isaiah as our Advent focus. We are also using Church Anew’s Advent in a Box with the theme, “Why Wait?!” The third week’s focus is, “Why Wait: Lament Now.” We’re recognizing the emotions of the season and leaving space for the holidays to be whatever it is that people need. We can cry out to God in lament knowing that our cries are received.
Our text for the week is Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11. I love how this text talks about someone being sent to walk alongside those in mourning, to comfort them. It embodies the Nebraska synod’s focus of, Go and…be present. As Cory Driver said in his vlog, professional mourners come along side these people and their only response is a sigh. They know enough to sit in the mess and not say anything. At the right time, they share a message of hope and restoration. This is a message that sounds a lot like the gospel. It’s good news of liberty and release. It’s changing our ashes for garlands. Mourning is changed to praising. God shows up wherever we are.
As we continue this journey to Christmas, might we go and…be present. Visit someone in the nursing home. Invite a friend who is struggling over to sit and watch a movie without talking. Send a card letting someone know that you also miss their beloved family member. In doing so, we embody Jesus’ work in the world and bring Jesus a little closer in Spirit.
Emily Dalen, Pastor at St. Paul Lutheran in Treynor, Iowa