In the midst of all the wonder, joy, and celebration of Christmas, with its carols, parties, decorating, baking, gift giving, and family time, it's easy for us to forget that in our own churches, Sunday school classes, and choirs there is likely to be someone for whom the idea of Christmas joy is not part of the season this year. Events take place at this time of the year that simply make celebration impossible — illness, sudden death of a loved one, or the burden of caring for a loved one, the loss of a job, oppressive financial difficulties, strained family relations, divorce or separation. For some people, Christmas may simply bring up memories of a difficult and troubled past. Perhaps a spouse, child, or parent has been taken away to fight a war. And for some, they have been confronted with their own mortality, having been told that this may be their own last Christmas.
When your life has been turned upside down by these or other circumstances, the last thing you feel like doing is singing with the angels. But as we Christians tend to do on Sunday morning, we put aside our problems and sufferings, greet our fellow worshipers with a smile, sing Joy to the World, and pretend that all is well, while all the while we may be suffering physically or emotionally. As followers of the risen Lord, how can we be anything else but happy?
The reality is, of course, that in every Sunday morning service, in every choir rehearsal, and at every Christmas Eve candlelight service, there are people who are hurting and in pain, whose lives are in turmoil, and who seek help or answers. Even surrounded by our candles, poinsettias, the laughter of children, and the great joy of the Christmas season, can we minister to those among us who can not enter into and share that joy this year? Here are some suggestions:
- Offer a Blue Christmas service, paying attention to the special needs of people who are "blue" or in pain at this time. Some churches call these "Longest Night Services," recognizing that the private night hours are often the most difficult, and the longest night of the year takes place on the winter solstice, just a few days before Christmas. These services can be a blend of elements that recognize Christmas and the fact that Jesus came to offer hope, as well as the fact that people are in pain. These services are usually meditative, include quieter hymns of the season (O Little Town of Bethlehem, O Come, O Come, Emmanuel) and hymns and songs that offer healing and hope (Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Out of the Depths/The Faith We Sing #2136), or some of the Taiz songs such as In the Lord I'll Be Ever Thankful, Stay with Me, and O Lord, Hear My Prayer, all in The Faith We Sing.
- In your regular worship services at this time of the year, include in your prayers and petitions recognition of those among us who suffer and are in pain. For some reason it is often easier to pray for "all those who suffer and are in pain," or the nameless victims of war, or the thousands outside our church walls in difficult situations. Let us also remember to pray for our own church family, someone who may be sitting right next to us in the pew.
- Weave scriptures and prayers into the worship service that offer hope and encouragement. These might be only brief references in a sermon, a sentence or two in a prayer, or a specific reference in a blessing or sending forth at the end of the service.
Look at these resources for ideas and suggestions: