Authentic Christmas

There is such and interesting mix of emotion that surrounds the holiday season. There is perhaps no greater evidence of this than the Blue Christmas worship service. In contrast to the music, the lights, the joy, the laughter is the more somber tone of those that cannot help but be reminded of loss and struggle during this season.

I have said it before, and I will say it again, I believe Blue Christmas and Maundy Thursday are the most meaningful worship services that the church does all year. Sure, there are no more spectacular services than Easter and Christmas Eve, but there is something so powerful about the authenticity of Blue Christmas and Maundy Thursday. These services give us permission to feel whatever it is we are really feeling—even if that is not the prevailing joyous emotions of the season. It gives us permission to mourn. It gives us permission to be sad. It gives us permission to be overwhelmed. It gives us permission to be… It is real.

When we stop to really look at the heart of the Nativity story that is what it is all about. In a world surrounded by the pomp and circumstance of empire and the ritual and piety of Jerusalem temple, we have the great contrast with a backwater village and poor peasants. Not only that, but the depth of struggle that this young couple must have been experiencing as well. Matthew’s gospel tells us that Joseph was breaking off this relationship. He was done. It literally took divine intervention to hold that marriage together. In the gospel of Luke the story is of holiday travelers whose plans fall apart, dealing with bureaucratic nightmares, and a poor couple navigating a (quite literally) non-existent healthcare system upon the birth of a child. These are human stories. Authentic stories. Even though some of you have recently been subjected to my Christmas quiz and discovered that a lot of the traditions we hold have no scriptural basis, we also discovered that there is something truly real lying beneath—the shared human experience.

That is after all what this season is all about—a shared human experience. In the coming of the Christ Child we have the union of the divine and the human. This is the power of the incarnational message. We have the promise that whatever bittersweet story we are experiencing this holiday season, that God loves us so much, God decided to come deal with the same pains, heartaches, headaches, losses and loneliness that we do.

So wherever you may be this season, whatever emotions you may be experiencing, whatever struggles you may be facing; the message of the coming Christ child is ultimately the reminder that you are never alone—even if loneliness is what you are feeling.

Not only is there a promise here, but there is also a responsibility for us as disciples of that baby boy. We are called to be the Shepherds and Magi. We are called to gather at the stables of those who have been struggling, those who are alone, those who are dealing with nightmares, those who are in pain. What’s more—it doesn’t matter your qualifications, it doesn’t matter your skill, it matters that you show up. You could have all the wit and wisdom of somebody paid to watch sheep, or you could be a spiritual leader and mystic astronomer—those things don’t matter. It matters that you show up for the lowly, the hurting and the sad. Take this as a challenge to be mindful of those who are hurting in your midst right now.

All of this is why I am so moved by Blue Christmas. It is real. It is a real human story. It is filled with the same realities that the Christmas story is filled with. Yes, it has it’s tears that sometimes seem out of place to the rest of the world at this time, but surely the story of the Christ child had those tears as well, and we would later declare that child to be out of place in our world as well.

Take some time this season to unwrap your own feelings, and those of the people around you. Make space for what is real that lies beneath the tinsel. Before the songs of joy ring out, get in touch with where the aches and pains of the world lie. It is this complicated mixture of great joy and great struggle that make the Christmas message so deeply meaningful for us all.

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