Sunday, December 21, 2014

Another Blue Christmas

Here's the manuscript for the Blue Christmas service I provided last week.  The texts were Romans 8:22, 27, Psalm 77:1-13 and Matthew 11:28-30

I met my youngest nephew when he was 2 days old.  My sister and her family were living with my parents at the time, two months out from moving to Scotland.  So when I arrived, I left my 20 month old son downstairs with his cousin and my parents and hurried up the stairs to my sister's room.  Arwen and sweet baby Henry were in the bed and memory tells me that the room was dark.  I sat on the bed with them and talked softly with her about the birth, about how she was doing, and admired his tender baby skin and tiny baby hands.  Finally I got to hold him, his small, brand new body, a marvel.  But then my eyes clouded with tears and I found it hard to speak.  I looked up at her, and my mother who had come into the room, and I whispered with trembling breath, "I always thought I would have another.  And now…." 

Here was this perfect moment, this perfect baby, here was joy, and I was still wrapped up in my own grief.  The days carried on, the future in the shape of a baby boy, and here I was still chained with dark links to the bleak months behind me - my then-husband's 90 year jail sentence and the empty womb of staying married to him.  I held life in my hands, and still could only mourn the life I'd lost.  I was thankful to my family in that moment, because they did not begrudge my sadness while they felt gladness.

But that is not always the case with our grief, is it my friends?  Especially this time of year, we who are deep in grief (whether present or past) feel out of step with a world covered in tinsel and fake snow and saturated with the sound of songs that speak of joy and love and warm family moments.  For those who have the privilege of un-darkened holidays, who only have memories of light and love, our anger and pain, our grief and tears seem to be an affront, a maudlin dwelling "on the past" rather than the present.  And it is hard to be kind in those brief seconds of meeting, it is hard not to resent their desire to control our feelings; but of course, who could wish the grief's that cut us upon those around us?  Even in my deepest anger for the ways my life went off the rails, I never hoped that anyone else would hold a newborn baby and cry in grief. 

What gave me comfort then, in those pulsingly painful days three years ago, was the knowledge that my grief during everyone else's' joy was no bother to God.  What gave me comfort then, was the knowledge that the God I worshiped knew exactly what it was like to grieve and lose, and would always be the one I could turn to with tears and words of loss.

Tonight we heard several scripture passages, one from the psalms in the Hebrew Bible and two from the New Testament.  And all of them had this idea in common - that grief, pain, hurt, soul-aching loss is not something we have to hide from the God who loves us.  The book of psalms is the song book of the ancient Hebrew people, and the songs they sang were frequently filled with tears and grief.  These songs of scripture wrestle with doubt, they accuse God of being absent, they name all that has been lost, they express fear for the future.  But they also find a way to hope in the midst of hopelessness.

Maybe in these days wrapped in shiny lights and difficult memories, you too can sing songs of grief that contain even a glimmer of hope.

But if finding the words to write a song seem too much, you can take comfort in Paul's letter to the church in Rome. If, in your grief, you even lack the words to pray, the Holy Spirit will moan for you.  One of the more difficult aspects of living with pain is how words so often fail to truly describe what goes on deep within you.  When someone you love dies, are you truly just "sad"?  When you discover you can never have children, does "disappointed" really capture the extent of what you feel?  When life falls apart,  does saying "you feel like a mess" actually communicate how unsafe your days and nights have become?  Describing our inner lives to each other is a struggle; but expressing our inner lives to God is not.  Because God loves us deeply, because God knows us perfectly, and because God doesn't even need words from us to truly get us.  

Maybe in these moments that can seem jarringly cheerful and depressing in the same moment, you can rest in the assurance that God will always know what you mean, regardless of how well or how poorly you articulate it.

And, certainly not least of all these thousands-year old words, Matthew's gospel gives us comfort as Jesus assures us that in him we find rest, in him we find gentle love, in him we find a chance to lay down our burdens.  That is what this time of year can feel like, don't you think?  We carry our burdens and it's hard to find anyone to help shoulder them with; everyone is too busy rushing to the next holiday party or away from their own shadows.  But Christ meets you in these days, in darkness or light, in your office or the candlelight of the sanctuary and says: you seem tired, beloved.  Rest in me.  Let me lighten your load.  

Maybe in these days that quickly tumble down into Christmas, you too will find the God who loves you and lay your burdens down in his capable hands.

The world may tell us to hide our grief, to pretend our days are merry and bright, but our scripture never will.  Our God wants us to tell the truth about when we walk through valleys that seem shadowed in death.  Our God wants us to quit worrying the words we cry out to him as we walk through these valleys of grief and pain.  And even better, when we walk, and sing and mumble and moan through these long journeys, God wants to walk alongside, and carry our burdens, our God does not want us to be alone.

You who find yourself weary with grief while others have joy, 
weary with pain when others are healed, 
weary with anger when others find forgiveness, 
weary with loss when others have gain, 
Come to God.  

Come to God and find the love and rest you need.

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