Last night I led a Blue Christmas service at St. Thomas. This is a service for people who, for a variety of reasons, are struggling during the holiday season. It’s a service of quiet, candlelight and music. For many of us at St Thomas, grieving is the order of the day this Christmas season. I share with you my sermon from last night’s Blue Christmas.
I am struck by the contrast for me of this service last year and this service this year. Last year I spoke from expertise. This year I’m speaking from experience.
I am one of the broken hearted this year. And I have found if you are trying to do Christmas the way the world says it should be done, then it is awful to be one of the broken hearted. And if you try to do Christmas the way “it’s always been done,” frustration is dissatisfaction will be the order of the day. Because this isn’t like any other Christmas. We are broken hearted this Christmas. But I have also found that if I welcome in the broken heartedness, as it is, not trying to change it or make it something different, make it better – there is a depth in that place that can speak to me about God in this season.
Two people’s writings have really spoken to me this Advent. Bishop Alan Gates of Boston and Thomas Merton. Alan wrote about how much of Christmas is about wishes. We wish for so many things – they tend to be tangible, ( like gifts), fairly immediate and mostly all about us. Sometimes our wishes are for things that are far beyond our control.
But we that follow Christ are not about wishes at Christmas. We are about hope. And hope is different. He talks about hope not as a sentimental, airy fairy kind of thing. He talks about hope as robust! Christmas wishes will come and go swiftly enough. But hope is neither quickly fulfilled or quickly dismissed.
He says, “Advent hope is a path with no horizon, a promise with no end.”
I wish with all my heart that my sister was still here, that the terrible brain hemorrhage she suffered never happened. I wish we could go back and do that all over, change how things were. And I know with complete certainty that that will never, ever happen. That wish will never ever come true.
But hope is different. Hope is what allows me to put one foot in front of the other. On this road with no horizon, in a situation that I can’t imagine ever being better, Hope is that small voice that whispers to me over and over “This is not the end. You may not be able to see it, or imagine it, but there is more life coming. New life. Different life. Even in the midst of this darkness, there is light. And life and endless love.
I think that’s the same voice that gave Mary hope as she faced this brutal situation for a teenaged Jewish girl. I can’t even imagine the terror she must have felt when faced with the prospect of this situation. She was literally facing her own death – the law said she would be stoned to death if found to be pregnant out of wedlock. But she faced that situation, as it was, without adjusting any of it, and took the next step, and walked on that path with no horizon. One foot in front of the other. Because she had hope in the promises of her God.
The words of Thomas Merton that I read last Sunday have resonated within me so much lately. He said:
“Our work this Advent is to seek and find Christ in the world as it is, not as it might be.”
So often our kind of hope is “I hope this will end. I hope this will get better. I hope I will stop feeling this way.” And then we feel let down when that doesn’t happen.
Merton is saying that right here, right now, just as things are, Christ is present. Nothing has to be different for us to experience the love and compassion of Christ. And right here, right now, there is more life. Our world as we know it has ended. But that doesn’t mean that life has ended. There is more life, even though we cannot see it on this road with no horizon right now. Our imaginations can’t imagine how things could ever be better. But God’s imagination can.
That is the hope I stand in this Christmas. It grounds me in the moment, as it is, full of sadness and heartache. But without despair. This Christmas, I celebrate that the light has come into the world, and the darkness can never put it out. It is the greatest gift I will get this Christmas. I pray it for all of you as well. Wherever you are right now in your hearts and souls, know that this is not the end. There is more life coming. There will be joy again. It will be different than before. But it will be real and deep and true. Underneath all of this pain and disruption of life is a hum that is God, that grounds us in the sacred and healing love, that tells us , As Julian of Norwich says, that “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” This Christmas, may it be so. Amen.