Monday, December 24, 2012

Blue Christmas, White Christmas, It'll be all right Christmas!

Although I'm going to publish the text of this sermon, I encourage you to watch and listen to the video instead.  For this particular sermon, it's better to experience the singing, etc. as well.  The video was made with my cell phone, so it's not professional quality, but it gets the message across just fine.  Here's the youtube link:

And here's the text:

I have shared with this congregation before that the holiday season is sometimes difficult for me, though I find that time does heal, and I don’t have the same level of blueness this time of year that I once did.  But I do certainly understand the “Blue Christmas” concept.  Since others through the years of my ministry have also shared with me their difficulties during this season, I felt it would be important to lift this up --- not hide it behind the tinsel.  Other ministers have done similar things and some refer to this as a “Blue Christmas” service.  I’ve expanded this service to “Blue Christmas, White Christmas, It’ll be all right Christmas.”  The White Christmas part will come after the sermon.  But the “it’ll be all right” part will be in here too. 

As I was looking to see what others had done, I discovered a 2001 sermon by Presbyterian minister Diane Hendricks in which she juxtaposed various “concerns” with a popular holiday song --- and I thought that was a clever way to do it.  So I need to credit her with using this song in contrast to our difficulties in this season – but I’ve used the difficulties that you shared with me in my little internet survey and others I found in the news for this sermon.    

So here goes my version of “It’s a most wonderful time of the year – mmmm not.”

(Singing)  It's the most wonderful time of the year! With the kids jingle belling, and everyone telling you, “be of good cheer,” It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Only maybe it's not.
Not for everyone
Some of you have shared with me times when it’s not so merry this time of year like…..
It’s not wonderful when…
There is just too much stuff, too much thinking stressing about material things.
Not when pop culture gives us unrealistic expectations of family bliss that reality never lives up to.
Not when we can’t escape the manufactured, irrelevant, overblown controversy over holiday terminology.
Not if you are expected to accept nativity myths that have been altered by those wanting to create a uniform belief system.
Not when you really want to give back to friends and family – but don’t have the means to do so.

It's the most wonderful time of the year? No, for many of us it's not.

And sometimes trying to smile and say Merry Christmas is more than difficult. It's pretty near impossible, especially if we are grieving.

C.S. Lewis once wrote: "No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning..."

(Singing)  It’s the hap-happiest season of all, with those holiday greetings and great happy meetings, when friends come to call; it's the hap-happiest season of all.

Only it's not.   
Not when there is an empty chair at the table.
Not since she died.
Not when you or family members are so sick.
Not after they told you lost your job.
Not when your marriage is hard.
Not when you’ve been betrayed by someone you loved.
Not when holiday memories are so difficult.

(Singing) There'll be parties for hosting, marshmallows for toasting and caroling out in the snow. There'll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago. It's the most wonderful time of the year

Nah, not this year.
Not when the news is too, too sad.
Not when the fiscal cliff is looming ahead.
Not when natural disasters seem all too uncommon and we wonder where the next one will hit.
Not when war has became normal.
Not when we continue to cry for children massacred – even here in our own country -- and for a nation that has not done more to prevent these occurrences.
No, not this year.

In truth, it has never been the most wonderful time of the year. Certainly not in the days surrounding that first Christmas so long ago.

Rebecca Ziegler is traveling and could not be with our congregation today, but shared with me a poem entitled “Christmas Story” that was related --- and I asked her and was granted permission to share it with you today.

Christmas Story

Expunge for a minute the angels, the glorias.
What is this about?
It’s about a homeless woman
about to give birth, with no shelter
(paternity is in doubt).

It’s about using a feed box as a crib
for that essential modicum of warmth.

A week later, when Herod’s troops
march into Bethlehem,
it’s about a genocide.

Now, add back in the angels, the glorias, the Joy.

Rebecca doesn’t attempt to answer that question.  But like us, she lifts up the paradox

(Singing)  It’s a most wonderful time of the year! There'll be much mistltoeing and hearts will be glowing when love ones are near. It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Maybe  -- for some!  And perhaps it can be a time of peace for us too if we are open to it.  Perhaps we can become one with Mary at this time of year and know that our pain may lead to something divine. 

Now you may think it heretical of me to liken us to the blessed Virgin --- but I consider my heresy to be a most blessed heresy that allows me to take what many deem as holy and try to learn something by immersing myself into that role. 

Yes, I believe that through our pain and suffering, through that grievous time of labor, we can give birth to the divine, to the holy, to that which matters.  We will become stronger and more understanding, more knowledgeable, better equipped to make a difference in ourselves and the world – no matter what our circumstances may be.  

It can be the most wonderful time of the year, not because we have to be cheery and happy and merry. But because we don't.

We can have heavy spirits and shattered dreams, broken hearts and deep wounds.  And still recognize that LOVE is here.  We are here.  We survive and we can connect in that love that strengthens us and emboldens us to keep going, keep striving, keep living, keep loving. 

For Christians, this time of year represents one in which Love came down.  God came to earth.  We can honor that tradition as well – regardless of our beliefs – and welcome that divine love into our lives.  It’s here.  It’s in the hearts of those who sit next to you and across the room.  It’s in the smiles and laughter of the children who are learning and playing nearby.  It’s in the very air we breathe.

I wanted to close this sermon time with some ritual of healing for us --- and I could not think of a better one than deep breathing as you listen to Sarah Dan Jones’s beautiful song written for first responders after 911. I invite you to close your eyes and to feel free to just breathe.  Breathe in peace and breathe out love and healing to those here in this room and to the world -- or if you like - you can join me in singing “Breathe in, Breathe out.”

Breathe In, Breathe Out
Breathe In, Breathe Out

When I breathe in, I breathe in peace
When I breathe out, I breathe out love

When I breathe in, I breathe in peace
When I breathe out, I breathe out love

(Descant) When I breathe in I breathe in peace,
            When I breathe out I breathe out love,

            When I breathe in I breathe in peace
            When I breathe out I breathe out love

Breathe In, Breathe Out
Breathe In, Breathe Out

When I breathe in, I breathe in peace
When I breathe out, I breathe out love


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