Blue Christmas/Longest Night
Memorial Lutheran Church
Grace and peace to you this longest night.
The Christmas story, when sung by choirs or portrayed by children or depicted in art and nativity scenes usually sets its focus on the holy family. The young mother Mary, the serene looking Joseph and that cooing baby in the manger. Off center, looking on are the wise men, some barnyard animals and the shepherds.
Those shepherds, understated, often overlooked for their place and experience of the Christ child’s birth. I think those are our guys for a night like tonight. This space and this night is for those who do not feel so merry or bright, but instead are experiencing the heaviness of grief and the sadness of the season. Whatever your reasons, whatever your story, this space and this night we gather together just like those shepherds standing vulnerably in the open, darkened fields. Their story begins out in the field in the middle of the night, they are working their lowly work of watching sheep. They are as vulnerable to the elements and wildlife as anyone and right there, in that open, dark place the angels of God show up.
The presence of God, mysterious and often terrifying came to lowly, vulnerable people in the dark.
Without logic or explanation the shepherds travel to Bethlehem to find the an unwed couple that may or may not have birthed a child in a stable. They certainly do not know exactly what they will find there, but they believe they have just encountered something holy and true. So they go with haste and trust the word of God that speaks the unbelievable.
And then the shepherd do something we do not ever see in our nativity sets. The shepherd speak to Mary and Joseph and tell them all that the angels said. These terrified shepherds tell the exhausted and confused young couple that their Messiah has been born and is laying in their arms. And that though everyone is pretty shaky those angels said this birth is good news for all people. I wish I could find a nativity set that included a shepherd leaning over and whispering in Mary’s ear, for this act of speaking comfort to struggling people is a holy, beautiful moment in the Christmas story.
And what did Mary do? She pondered all these words in her hearts.
Ever since this first middle of the night birth and pilgrimage our world has been celebrating the miracle. The traditions of this celebration have taken on all sorts of forms and rituals, in our time and place the celebrating of Christmas usually includes travelling, shopping, giving and receiving, feasting and toasting and making memories to cherish for years. And these strong celebratory practices can drown out the reality of it all, can’t it?
The truth is many people experience death and loss during this time of year. The truth is that seasonal depression is on the rise during this time of year. The truth is that not all families get along, we miss those who have died. The reality here on December 21st is that the darkness is long and we cannot be sure when the light within with dawn again. There is a particular pain to being out of step with the broad mood of the rest of our communities, especially the strong spirit of Christmas which we are told is “the most wonderful time of the year.”
The rhythms and traditions of Christmas have grown and grown and taken on a life of their own. Tonight, I invite you to hear that the essence of the Christmas miracle has not changed and cannot be drown out by our culture’s consumerism or even our own heavy hearts. Instead, let us dwell in the shepherd's field, stand in the dark of our confusion and wonderment. For our God is certainly as present and as loving there as in the manger stall.
The essence of Christmas is the miracle that the love of God just had to enter into the lives of real people; lowly shepherds, unwed mothers, you and me. Perhaps carol singing and present opening will be too much for the grief you carry or the heaviness of your soul. Maybe the mere thought of the whole host of heaven showing up in that shepherd’s field is simply too loud and brash for the quietness your heart is asking for.
Instead, know that the meaning of Christmas was also whispered in a barn from a nameless, unimpressive shepherd to a terrified, exhausted young mother. The good news was whispered and then, pondered quietly by heart. The promise of Christmas is that good news has indeed dawned upon the earth and graced us with love, peace and promised life everlasting for our dearly departed and for us too. This promise is for you, whispered into your grief and sorrow and will also be there if you experience moments of joyful remembering.
For tonight, on this longest night, we remember the good, quiet, pondering news of Jesus this Christmas and that is enough. Amen.