Monday, December 12, 2011

December 12, 2011 – Blue Christmas

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, I know.  I had the fall stewardship campaign at the church, then Thanksgiving, then the start of Advent – all the while dealing with the sandwich-generation issues that are my life right now: young-adult kids coming and going, and caring for my mother who lives nearby and has Alzheimer’s.  Life has been busy (and, thankfully, healthy)!

Yesterday, for the first time, we offered a Blue Christmas worship service at the church.  It’s something I’d hoped to explore in previous years, but it took the enthusiasm of our church’s Associate, Linda, to get it organized.

What a blessing!  Attendance was not large (nor did we expect it to be).  We’d promoted the service as a focused pastoral-care outreach to a select group of people: those who have experienced recent losses, and who feel a bit left out amidst the traditional pre-Christmas merrymaking.  For those who participated, it was a rich and meaningful experience – due, in large part, to Linda, who put together a carefully-crafted order of worship that emphasized the presence of God and the quiet beauty of the Advent season.

Judging from what I know of those who were present, most of the losses were due to bereavement, although we were careful to speak to losses of all kinds, including the loss of jobs and income in this difficult economy.

Cancer, of course, brings its own losses.  Even those who are fortunate enough to go into remission have lost the sense they once had of being healthy.  We’re reminded of that every time we fill in a medical-history form.  Always there is the reality of the cancer, and the thought in the back of our minds that someday it could come back.

Towards the end of the service, everyone was invited to come forward and light an individual votive candle in a blue-glass holder, in memory of their loved one or in recognition of whatever other loss they may have experienced.  The people did that by means of a white, hand-held candle they passed from person to person.  Each one used it, in turn, to light his or her own candle, then passed it to the next person, and so on.

It struck me, at the time, how powerful was the symbolism of that simple act.  Here was a group of people, each of them bearing a heavy burden of grief.  The road each one is walking is, by its nature, profoundly alienating.   Yet, each one passed the light to a fellow believer, all the same.

We receive ministry from others, yet Christ also calls us to offer it.  Even in a season of personal darkness, we can very often still find a little light to offer to another.  This is what life in Christian community, at its finest, is all about.

There are some who maintain that one of the surest ways up and out of the pit of depression is to try to do something for others, however difficult it may be to get started on that.  I think there’s a lot to what they say.

The night before the Blue Christmas service – knowing how few are the liturgical and musical resources to use in planning such a service — I felt led to write the text of a hymn.  It was too late to get it into the bulletin for this year, but maybe we’ll use it next year.

The hymn is set to the hauntingly beautiful tune of The Coventry Carol - a familiar tune to many, but not one we’re used to singing as a congregation.  Not many people who enjoy listening to the Coventry Carol on their Christmas CDs are aware of this, but its lovely melody is desperately sad. It’s the keening lament of the women of Bethlehem, after their male babies and toddlers have been slaughtered by the soldiers of King Herod.  (According to Matthew 2:16-18, Herod was bent on murdering the young Jesus, whom he perceived as a threat to his rule.)  “Lullay, lullay, thou little tiny child” is a lullaby, to be sure, but it’s the last lullaby sung by a grieving mother to the dead child in her arms.  Pretty grim stuff, but also very powerful in a raw, emotional way.

(Scroll down for the hymn text...)

Comfort Your People, Lord
A Hymn for Blue Christmas Worship Services
Text by Carlos E. Wilton
Tune: “The Coventry Carol”

O Lord, we bring to you, this day,
Hearts that are raw with pain:
For sorrow has companioned us,
And in our lives does reign.
You promise to make all things new:
Comfort your people, Lord.

Would that we could turn back the clock
And for one precious hour
Reach out, clasp hands, and touch again
Love’s fragile, with’ring flower!
You cherish all times in your hands:
Comfort your people, Lord.

All through our lives we’ve trusted you
To be most fair and kind:
Though, in the dark night of the soul,
Anger enthralls our minds.
For freedom you have set us free:
Comfort your people, Lord.

We have not always trusted that
Fairness has been your way.
Too soon it’s seemed to watch our dreams
Float up and fly away.
For good, all things together work:
Comfort your people, Lord.

My soul, why are you so downcast:
Caught up in grief’s malaise?
We trust the day will soon arrive
When we will sing God’s praise!
Not Yuletide mirth, but Easter joy:
We ask this gift, O Lord.

Copyright © 2011, by Carlos E. Wilton.  All rights reserved.  Permission is given for congregations to reproduce the text of this hymn in worship bulletins, as long as the copyright information is included.


Anonymous said...

What a moving hymn - thank you. The Blue Christmas service, I'm sure, provided comfort to those who have suffered a loss. Grateful for both you and Linda for your ministries. Charlene/Harvey

Zam Walker said...

Many thanks for this. This week is the anniversary of my diagnosis (9 years!!) and as a minister I am conscious of how many people are grieving and this time of year exacerbates that grief.
We love the Coventry Carol - and are using it in our nativity this coming Sunday - and I agree that its haunting melody is ideal for your lovely hymn.
Every blessing for Christmas and beyond

Anonymous said...



Ronni Gordon said...

The Blue Christmas service sounds very profound. I am glad that is what you were writing about, because when I saw the headline "Blue Christmas," I thought that meant you were blue because you had bad health news! Glad to hear that you are well.

bint alshamsa said...

This Christmas, I am thankful that you are still with us. It has been a while since I visited your blog, but I wanted you to know that I still did. I find it comforting to know that you are still sharing God's love with others despite cancer.

Carl said...

Thanks Bint, and others, for the kind words.

Unknown said...

I stumbled across this page and your beautiful hymn while searching for resources as I, a student pastor, prepare to plan and lead my very first Blue Christmas service. The title of "A Pastor's Cancer Diary" caught my attention because my own father, also a pastor, lost his battle with Colon cancer in June. The words of your hymn brought tears to my eyes. As someone very much in need of a Blue Christmas service this year, they were incredibly touching to me.
Thank you for your heartfelt words and for sharing your faith in the midst of your journey. God bless you.