Dr. RB McFee
Welcome to Advent! What color are you?
From (free download) http://www.vecteezy.com/vector-art/85953-nativity-scene-illustration
Consider the color ‘blue.’ Of all the colors in the rainbow, blue seems to invoke more emotions than most.
Here’s an example of just a few situations “blue” is utilized…. ‘having the blues,’ ‘singing the blues,’ ‘blue morning,’ ‘blue Monday,’ ‘love is blue,’ ‘blue skies,’ ‘blue water,’ ‘blue jokes,’ ‘black and blue boo boo,’ and the list goes on. Sometimes the color ‘blue’ takes on the role of a positive, conveying a sense of happy, or adventure, or of royalty.
But at this time of year, the color blue hits our hearts, and takes to the airways as a way of conveying loss or disappointment.
Take for instance a song made famous by Elvis Presley, and probably familiar to most of you. Here are some of the lyrics; I’ll leave the hip motion and patented Elvis twisting to you to do at home J
“I’ll have a blue Christmas without you
I’ll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on our green Christmas tree
Won’t be the same dear, if you’re not here with me
And when those blue snowflakes start fallin’
That’s when those blue memories start callin’….”
Lyrics from Blue Christmas by Billy Harris and W. Jay Johnson
Although not the first recording of Blue Christmas – that honor goes to a Mr. O’Dell in 1948 – Elvis’ recording in 1957 catapulted onto the national charts, and has become a staple for the Christmas Season pretty much ever since. So popular has Blue Christmas become, that it’s has been “covered” by many performers over the years, from Ringo Starr to Celine Dion.
So why the popularity of Blue Christmas?
Good question, considering there are other Holiday songs that have a somber tone, or heavier message. But Blue Christmas seems to be the one that sums it up just by the title.
Perhaps it is because the lyrics try to capture the essence of people who have lost their ‘ho ho ho,’ or who have a wounded spirit, unable to partake in the joy, hope, peace, and love of the Season, perhaps because it has been too long since they have experienced any of these four pillars of Advent.
Feeling “blue” or down at Christmas seems to be increasingly common. And it usually isn’t as much about presents as presence, or absence thereof of human or Heavenly contact; such contact that would normally fill the soul.
To be sure, Elvis’ Blue Christmas recounts the sadness of separation in a romance. Yet the sentiment carries over, and serves as a gentle anthem against a backdrop of endlessly upbeat carols and songs, for those who have lost a loved one, or suffered some sort of setback, or aren’t able to summon their holly and jolly due to health reasons or feelings of loneliness.
Although as people of faith we know Christmas isn’t about us, it is about Jesus, and about a Heavenly plan and purpose God has for us. It is about publicly rejoicing in our Father’s Goodness, as witnesses to His love, and our faith.
And as regular church attendees, we have encountered umpteen verses in the Bible about being thankful even during times of loss, lack, and despair. We have read from the Old and New Testaments various scriptures that try to inspire and console us through hardships. But at this time of year it seems finding our way, and following the Star, heading for the manger is easier said than done.
To quote Jesus “the spirit is willing but the body is weak.”
Watching others make merry, while going through mental, physical, spiritual or financial challenges can place a pall over what should be the happiest time of the year.
“The real meaning of Christmas is not presents, it’s more like being met with hope and light in your darkness, and that’s a message that a lot of us don’t hear.”
Rev. Wendy Boden-Nelson (Chicago Tribune) from http://nouwen-network.com/christmas.html
Christmas comes during the darkest time of the year; daylight hours are at their shortest, the evening lasts the longest. But it is also the end of what might be a long year. The darkness may not be just meteorological, but spiritual as well. And we know medically that darkness can influence psychological conditions, such as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), often treated, at least in part with light box therapy. Yet that is precisely when God places His Light therapy upon us, if we will just allow ourselves the glimmer of hope and trust to head towards Him.
Sometimes God places a celestial spotlight – like the Star of Bethlehem to guide us to Him. Other times it is a candle in the wind – a tiny spark of kindness from an unexpected source that reminds us God is paying attention to your needs and mine. Each of us matters. The Heavenly Hallmark message may be hard to see through tears, but if we have faith, we will find Him there by our side.
Jesus’ birth is instructive in finding our way Home. His birth occurred without fanfare, without parties. The Heavenly Host appeared to shepherds on a field. Nowhere do we read they then stopped by and serenaded Jesus and the Holy Family. Jesus’ arrival was sacred, still, quiet. God’s Humanity authentic.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum, to borrow a line from the iconic comedy. Sometime between the religious, near sacred and sacramental ways we treated Christmas, to the multi-week decorating, partying, gift giving extravaganza the holidays have become, we forgot this Season is about Jesus, and His relationship with us, and our relationships with others – in a spiritual, tangible way.
One wonders if we partied less and prayed more – collectively and individually – would there be as many blue Christmases?
Certainly exchanging gifts, added moments of hospitality, celebrating, and increased levels of charity are important ways of animating the love behind Christmas.
But for some, the blues and darkness of loss intrude so powerfully at Christmas, perhaps exponentially more than at other times of the year.
As Dickens wrote in his now iconic and beloved story A Christmas Carol, “Christmas is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices.”
Put differently – Want – whether the companionship of loved ones, or other heartfelt needs – is amplified against the backdrop of those who have those blessings.
Christmas often tests the faith of believers who look around and wonder” why are others more blessed? What did I do so wrong that God would ignore me?” As a physician this refrain has hit my ears almost as frequently as the times when patients express it with a look, a tear.
And how many times have you and I been in a store, only to overhear parents lament they cannot afford the gift they want to give, or the foods they used to purchase for Christmas, but due to a layoff, or other financial setback it will be a leaner Christmas.
How often do we visit people in hospital, or shut ins with health issues during this time of year? Folks who once had strong bodies able to put Santa on a rooftop, and now struggle to greet someone at the door – elf or otherwise.
How many people do we know who won’t enjoy the family Christmas celebrations of prior years? Death, inability to travel, health, finances – the number of folks who face a solo Christmas is not insignificant. For them the thought of a holiday dinner alone is almost too much to bear, even if they are blessed with good health, and friends. Simply put Christmas is about family, and if you don’t have one, there is a major hole in the heart, and instead of childlike anticipation for the bells of midnight Christmas Eve tolling and welcoming in the blessed Christmas day, it is met with foreboding.
How long we wonder until hope is fulfilled?
At any other time of year the lessons of waiting for God’s promises to be fulfilled - Moses (40 years), or Abraham (how many years until fatherhood?!), or, well you get the picture – are easier to accept.
Watching celebrations while one mourns the loss of relationship, job, loved ones, health – it can be a dagger to the heart. To suggest they will feel a ‘blue Christmas’ is a massive understatement.
Time for Blue Angels!
Not the amazing fighter pilot acrobats, but God’s human angels for blue Christmas. As Christians, as members of a faith family, we can make a difference.
Or we can get swept up in the momentum of Happy Holidays, and though we want to help others, will get tied up in our own responsibilities. Not an indictment, an observation…and one we all have succumbed to.
Too often in our busy lives we assume the outward appearance of others betokens, instead of belies what the person or family or fellow congregant, or friend/s we interact with is going through.
Even folks entering into a Blue Christmas often realize it, and want to experience Christ’s healing. They know Christmas is about Jesus, not them. But sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants. And though our first heart love should be Jesus, sometimes pain runs interference against what we know is right, and what we know we need.
And sometimes we forget how to ask for help. But if we can’t do it in a faith family, if we can’t reach out and say ‘Christmas is painful’ to our loving community of believers, and CCUMC certainly is such a place – then the message has been missed, and needs to be restated.
Jesus said “Behold I make all things anew.”
And He can, and He does. If we let Him. And, if we help others find their way to Him, so He can heal the pain, and start the transformation of spirit.
So how do we help others let go, and let God?
“I have called you friends.”
According to Discipleship Ministries of the Methodist Church, increasingly churches are addressing the needs of people going through dark times. According to Nouwen Network Ministries Blue Christmas Liturgies help those dealing with loss, depression, and generally struggling through Advent.*
Thankfully CCUMC is doing an important first step – a Blue Christmas prayer time Saturday, December 4th at the church.
If you are someone ‘blue,’ recognize you are not alone, and there’s no need to feel less a believer because of your presence.
If you are someone who wants to be one of Christ’s Blue Angles, one of His reflections of Love here on earth, who you see attending is someone you can pray with, share some Christmas Season tea with, even help him or her derive meaning from a personal Christmas with the One Who made it happen.
To be sure, Blue Christmas Services take on a variety of shapes. But they all share a few commonalities –
First - clergy taking the time to minister, to pastor the needs of congregants experiencing a very real, and painful reality at the one time of year no one wants to have these feelings.
Second – congregants who trust their faith family enough to be vulnerable enough to participate.
Third – members of a faith family who will care enough to try and help their blue member/s and perhaps help others elsewhere, too.
But most of all, Blue Christmas Services have Christ’s Presence – His ability to heal, to help someone refocus not so much on the pain of loss, but on the gain of Jesus, and all that having His Holy Spirit in us can do. By focusing on Christ and what He put into us – gifts, talents, love, compassion – and the assignment to look outward, not inward, we can make lighter and brighter someone else’s Christmas. And in the process, maybe the blues will dissipate, too.
Something for us to think about…. the color blue….it isn’t always the color of sorrow. The color blue also represents Mary, Jesus’ mother, according to some traditions. If ever there was a woman of hope, and trust in the Lord, with peace of soul, humility of spirit, and openness to Heaven’s mission, and love, it is Mary.
So maybe our Blue Christmas can be less Elvis, and more Mary – full of anticipation and wonder. After all she was the first mortal to kiss the Face of God.
Then there’s “sarum blue,” which has a dark royal blue – royal purple appearance, symbolic of Jesus’ royalty. It is also associated with the sacrifice of Christ at Lent (red violet), in addition to being an Advent color (blue violet).
Perhaps our blue can become less sorrow and more Savior.
We can be transformed in Christ. Our wounds and loss can be regenerated in a new way according to God’s will. When we trust in Him, He takes us and makes us anew. We may not know what He will restore and recreate, but we can be assured based on Psalm 23 “He restores my soul,” and yours, too.
Life has its ups and downs. But Christmas is an especially difficult time to suffer setbacks. Yet Christmas is also a time of miracles if we are open to receiving. Sometimes our wait is long, but God provides when we ready ourselves to use His blessings. The miracle of God’s love incarnate as Jesus – Emmanuel is proof He cares about you and me.
Emmanuel – it is more than a verse in a Christmas carol. It is more than a word in the New Testament. It is a pronouncement and a promise – God with us – then, and now. When someone trusts in God for salvation, the Holy Spirit indwells him, and he becomes a new creation.
Let Him change our blue from one of sadness to Christ’s royal one of joy, peace, love, hope, healing. After all, that is what Advent is all about – preparing our hearts to celebrate God’s arrival as our ‘right here’ Savior. It is then we can become anew and less blue, in the transforming power of Emmanuel.