Posted by: smstrouse | December 15, 2012

The Joy of Christmas Blue

483406_558010297558779_2141822694_nScrap the post I’d already half-written for this week. Another mass murder at the hands of a crazed gunman has brought us to our knees once again in grief and outrage. I’ll leave it to others to address all the issues swirling around: gun violence, mental illness, grief counseling. What I want to know is: what do we do with this holiday season, where even in church the message this week is ‘Rejoice!’?

I’m flashing back to a December seventeen years ago, when in the space of a week, I had to prepare for four funerals. One of those was for my 19-year-old nephew who had died unexpectedly on St. Nicholas Day. Another was for the 5-year-old son of friends. I went from one grieving house to another in the space of a weekend. The other two deaths were of elders, not entirely unexpected, but untimely nevertheless.

Because this all took place right at this time of year, I was faced with the Third Sunday of Advent’s call to ‘Rejoice!’ And what I discovered then, I know is true now: it is to just this kind of overwhelming grief that the ‘true meaning of Christmas’ speaks.
O, Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel,
who mourns in lonely exile here,
until the Child of God appears.

Emmanuel. The name says it all. God-with-us. At our midweek Advent gathering this week, we read the poem, Advent 1966 by Denise Levertov, a grim outpouring of horror at the burning of babies during the Viet Nam war (almost a prescience of what was to come two days later) . The poem is horrific; her outrage is intense. But the title is Advent. What could that mean? Our discussion revealed the truth of Advent: that we enter this holy season with eyes wide open to all the realities of our world, the horrors we inflict on one another, the damage we do to our planet home, the pains and burdens we each carry. There is no denial, no pretending for just a day that all is well; Advent brings a message of hope to bear on a seemingly hopeless world. Levertov ends her word picture of burned flesh with the last lines of hope:
or if I look, to see except dulled and unfocused
the delicate, firm, whole flesh of the still unburned.

Not the kind of thing you’ll see on a TV holiday special.  But there it is – the tiny speck of  green deep inside the seemingly lifeless branch. Not that this will bring much consolation to those poor families this Christmas. They join the ranks of those for whom this time of year will always be associated with loss.

Which is why the Blue Christmas tradition was begun. The Blue Christmas service was designed for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. It’s an inspired way to offer folks a different kind of observation of the holiday – not only for those  grieving,  but also for those with ‘baggage.’ You know what I mean.  Those for whom Christmas may have either painful memories of family and those who have happy memories and long for those good old days – all those who have the Christmas blues. Blue Christmas doesn’t sugarcoat reality, doesn’t offer visions of a nostalgic ‘perfect’ holiday, doesn’t demand happiness.

The call to ‘Rejoice!’ in Advent has nothing to do with holiday parties, shopping, or even the celebration of the birthday of baby Jesus. It is so much deeper. It reaches into the deepest places in our hearts, the places we think no hope can reach, and whispers “I am here with you.”

That is what gives me hope – and yes, even joy.


  1. Amen.


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