When Christmas Isn’t Merry

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The pressure to have it all together or to appear happy can be both overwhelming and downright disheartening for many people at Christmas time. Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Lacombe, Alta., holds a special service they call “Blue Sunday” to acknowledge that for many who have experienced loss in their lives, Christmas can amplify feelings of grief, sadness, and even despair.

“Last year, we had been through some extra things in the congregation, and it was a little heavier all around,” said pastor Mike Vandyk. “We thought we could do this service to especially encourage people, to acknowledge and bring those concerns before the Lord. Christmas can be quite a difficult time in relation to loss.”

The hour-long service was held near the beginning of the Advent season. In addition to singing a few familiar carols, lighting candles of remembrance, responsive readings, readings from Scripture, and an encouraging meditation from the pastor, attendees are invited to come to the front of the sanctuary to write a name or a concern on a gold star, which is then hung on a Christmas tree.

“The Christmas tree is positioned right in front of the cross, and it’s the reality [that] the Lord also carries our suffering. The stars remain on the tree through the entire Christmas season, so that when people come to other services, there’s always that recognition of the Lord speaking into their lives and the reality of the struggles they face,” he said. This year, 35 stars were hung on the tree. “Some children went up with their parents—a grandfather had died—and it was quite meaningful,” Vandyk said.

Craig and Marcella Van Sryland, who attended the service, agreed. “We attended the service because we experienced the loss of Craig’s father this summer and also because we have family members and friends who suffer from cancer and other degenerative illnesses,” said Marcella. “It was a service where we could remember those we have loved and lost; remember the pain of loss but that through Jesus all things are possible. It was a service where we could mourn but also heal and it was a beautiful time of remembering, reflecting, and rejoicing in all that God has done for us through the birth and sacrifice of his Son.”

The congregation makes a point of inviting their friends and neighbors to the event; Vandyk estimates that at least a third of the attendees this year were from the community.

“Of course, the loss of loved ones is difficult, but, more broadly, it’s the loss of hopes and dreams, loss of a job, and loss of relationships. All of a sudden these come into view more at Christmas time,” he said. “With all of the glitz and all of the expectations at Christmas time, the discomfort of loss doesn’t receive much attention. This service reminds us all of the reason Jesus came, that we still need a Savior to come and comfort and encourage us. It sets a really nice tone for the Advent season.”

 

Blue Christmas Liturgy

Call to worship

Pastor: In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God. All things were made by him, and without him nothing came to be. In him was life, and this life is the light of the world.

People: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

God’s greeting

Opening song: “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus”

Psalms 22 read responsively

Pastor: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from helping me, so far from the words of my groaning?

People: O my God, I cry by day but you do not answer, and by night but I find no rest.

Pastor: In you our ancestors trusted. They trusted and you delivered them.

People: It was you who brought me from the womb. Since my mother bore me you have been my God.

Pastor: Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

People: God does not despise the afflicted. God does not hide from me. When I cry to God, he hears me. Thanks be to God.

Ps 23 read in unison

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall lack no good thing.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters.

He restores my soul.  

He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil

For you are with me, your rod and staff they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,

You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life

and I will dwell in the house of the lord forever.

Time of Remembrance

Song: “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” st. 1-2

Reading: Isa 40:1-2, 6-8, 11, 28-31

Giving our Grief and Struggles to God Place the name of a person or your particular concern on a star and hang it on the Christmas tree.

Song: “My Faith Looks Up to Thee” st. 3-4

Candles of remembrance

The first candle

Pastor: We light this first candle to remember those who we have loved and lost. We pause to remember clearly their faces, their voices, their presence. We embrace and give thanks for the precious memories that bind them to us.

All: We remember them with love. May God’s eternal love surround them.

Song: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” st. 1

(a time of silent reflection)

The second candle

Pastor: We light this second candle to remember the pain of loss: lost relationships, loss of trust, loss of jobs, loss of health, loss of faith, and the loss of joy. We acknowledge the pain of the past, O God, and we offer it to you, asking that into our wounded hearts you will bring peace.

All: We remember that through you all things are possible. Refresh, restore, and renew us, O God, and lead us into your future.

Song: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” st. 2

(silent reflection)

The third candle

Pastor: We light this third candle to remember the past weeks, months, and for some of us even years, that have been heavy with our burdens. We lay before you, dear God, the sadness and grief, the hurt and fears, the anger and pain. We include the ways we feel we have fallen short and the times we have blamed ourselves and you for all that we have suffered.

All: We remember that though we have felt the darkness, the light itself has not failed. We hold to the truth that the dawn will come and defeat the darkness.

Song: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” st. 6

(silent reflection)

The fourth candle

Pastor: We light this fourth candle to remember faith, the gift of light and hope that God offers to us in the stories of Christmas that began in abandonment, insecurity, and humbleness in a poor stable. We remember that our loving God, who came to share this life with us, promises us comfort and peace.

All: We remember the one who shares our burdens, who shows us the way, and who journeys with us into all our tomorrows.

Song: “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” st. 7

(silent reflection)

Scripture Reading:Luke 2:36-38

Sermon: Anna’s struggles turned to thanks in Jesus.

Song: “Abide with Me”

The Prayers of God’s People:

Pastor: God of wisdom, we come to you at the start of this Christmas season. As the nights have grown longer, so has the feeling of darkness grown stronger and wrapped itself around our hearts and minds. At this time, as we do not really look forward to the required festivities, grant us strength and grace to get through each day with all of the social demands and joyful expectations. Lord, hear our prayer

All: And in your merciful love, answer.

Pastor: God of mercy and compassion, there are those among us who are grieving over what might have been. Death or loss or hurt has changed our Christmas. We remember that once it was a special day for us too, but someone or something precious is gone. We have lost a loved one, a job, a goal, a cause, a dream. We find ourselves adrift and alone. We are weary from the journey. We have found no room at the inn. We come to you seeking rest and peace. Lord hear our prayer

All: And in your merciful love, answer.

Pastor: God of grace, grant us all that we need to comfort us as we journey through this Christmas season. We ask that you shelter and sustain all those of us, both here and throughout the world who wander, who are in want, who weep, who are heavy laden. Grant that they find their way, receive what they need, have their tears wiped away, find rest in you. May we be lifted up and journey onward in your peace. Lord hear our prayer

All: And in your merciful love, answer.

Pastor: God of love, in this Christmas season we embrace and offer up to you all that used to be, which is now lost to us, and cannot be again. All the celebrations around us clash with memories of what once was, and fears of what may be. They weigh heavy on our hearts. Hold us close in your embrace. Be near to us until the light returns and the morning comes. Lord hear our prayer,

All: And in your merciful love, answer.

Pastor: Lord Jesus, we so much need you to come into our hearts, even as you came into this sad and hurting world long ago. Come again, we pray, so that we may feel your sacred presence and receive the consolation that only you can give. We trust in you, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Song: “Away in a Manger”

We bring an offering of thanksgiving

We go in peace:

Psalm 121 in unison

I lift up my eyes to the mountains. Where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip, he who watches over you will not slumber,

He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you. The Lord is your shade at your right hand.

The sun will not harm you by day nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm. He will watch over your life.

The Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

Closing Prayer:

Blessing:

Closing song: “Silent Night”

 

About the Author

Krista dela Rosa is a freelance news correspondent for The Banner. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada and attends Good News Fellowship Church.

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Comments

Our church used to do a "remembrance service" early each December. It was a beautiful way to remember people who are no longer with us, both individually and as a community together. I remember putting the name of my special loved ones on a dove that was then hung on a tree as part of the Christmas decorations in our church. This is a wonderful idea.

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