If there was ever a year for a blue Christmas, this is the year. Many of us have been challenged by external struggles with the chaos that we see in our world and in our nation. But then that conflict has also been internal, between family members and communities and at times even inside our own selves.
And as our anxious minds are apt to do, we begin to worry about what could happen next . . .
Anxiety is very future-oriented, often filling the blank canvas of the future with frightening images, painting and painting and filling in the space with more and more worry. But then, after a good exploration of the light/color/texture of these anxieties, … a deep tiredness settles in.
Clinically, Generalized Anxiety Disorder includes “restlessness” and “fatigue” in the list of symptoms. Our body’s systems often physically feel anxious with an increased heart rate, tight muscles, and held breath. These physical reactions are preparing for a threat, real or imagined. But all this physical anxiety also wears on your body … and your soul.
If there were ever a year to give ourselves the space for a Blue Christmas service in our churches, this year is it.
The “Service of the Longest Night” or “Blue Christmas” is usually held on the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year by the amount of night versus the amount of day (for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere). This date is typically around December 21, which is also the feast day of Thomas, the disciple, the one who was known for doubting the resurrection of Jesus.
Those who “celebrate” this service will often read psalms of lament such as Psalm 6 which express our bone-deep tiredness and grief.
We should remember that the familiar and reassuring Psalm 23 with its cool waters and a gentle shepherd is immediately preceded by the cries of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from Psalm 22.
The questions of “why” and “how long” will this pain continue are offered again and again in the Psalms, often referred to as psalms of lament.
As a counselor and a person of faith, I have met with those who feel that expressing their questions is somehow against their faith. Yet there are many places in scripture where good people of faith argue with God, voicing their disagreements or doubts.
Even Jesus asked for there to be another way in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying that God “let this cup pass away” from him.
And returning to this example of Thomas, we recall that Thomas too was in the midst of a time of grief and fear after Jesus’s crucifixion. Thomas challenged those who had seen the risen Christ by saying “Unless I see … I will not believe.”
For many of us too, being in a place of sadness, anxiety, and fear can lead us to question, sometimes rightfully, the truth of what is happening around us and to us.
What many of us have seen this year has been fires and storms, conflicts between friends and neighbors, sickness, death, and loss. All of this is a reason to bring to God the questions of “why” and “how long”. Being witness to so much suffering can be a challenge to our belief.
But as we know from the story of this disciple who questioned and from the many psalms that express fear and even anger, this inquiry is eventually answered.
In lament, we move from our grief to a place of knowing God’s presence with us in the suffering.
God may not take the cup of suffering away from us. Instead, we are assured of the God who is with us. And it is this Immanuel (the name for God that means God-with-us) that shows the path to new life, to new light, to resurrection.
As we consider this past year, my prayer is that we allow ourselves to know that long night of worry and weeping, being assured that just as the days begin to lengthen again following the solstice, our light is returning.