by Nishinosono Michiko, pastor Takinogawa Church, Tokyo District
In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. (John 1:4-5, NKJV)
When I served at Wesley United Methodist Church (UMC) in San Jose, California, we held a Blue Christmas worship service. I had never heard the term before, and I was interested in the concept it expressed.
Blue Christmas, or Longest Night, is a service of worship designed for people suffering with pain, loss, isolation, and grief in the Advent season. The service is often held on or around Dec. 21, the longest night of the year, although Wesley UMC held this worship service in November or at the beginning of December because of its very busy schedule of other events and gatherings. Later, we changed the name of the service to the “I Remember You” Worship Service.
For some of us, Christmas can be a time of stress and fear. Joy and cheer sometimes are overwhelmed by sadness. People in that situation feel alienated and set apart from family celebrations; they are experiencing depression and sadness and yet are often compelled to “put on a happy face” for others, denying their true feelings.
A Blue Christmas worship service is the place for such people, and they can be there as they are, with their sadness and pain. The service may include candles, meditative music, Psalms of lament, prayers for healing, blessings, and a message for people feeling a sense of loss. At Wesley UMC, just after the Blue Christmas service, we introduced our Stephen Ministers, who had received special training to be with people experiencing sorrow, pain, or trouble and needed someone with them. The service testifies to the struggles of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus that are often overlooked and provides a safe place of rest, comfort, and healing where we can acknowledge the struggles that we all face.
Some of us have lost our loved ones due to accidents, diseases, or great natural disasters, such as an earthquake, typhoon, or volcanic eruption. Others have lost their parents, siblings, children, or close friends. A number of us may mourn for the loss of our pets. Others have become unemployed or have lost their homes and the normal lives that they used to have. Great pain and sorrow over such losses surround us. We may still find empty and dark places in our own hearts. The joyful Christmas melodies may not sound in our hearts.
Our Savior Jesus Christ, however, came as a light in the darkness to embrace our pain, sorrow, and loneliness. He also struggled, suffered, and grieved, and He brings us comfort and God's forgiveness for our sin. He accepts and holds us, knowing our faults, weaknesses, and regrets, but He is always with us in the midst of our pain, sadness, and loneliness. Blue Christmas reminds me about Jesus as light in the darkness.