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.
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...)
Text by Carlos E. Wilton
Tune: “The Coventry Carol”
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.