Contrary to the song lyrics, it’s not the most wonderful time of the year for many of us. The jingle bell merriness of the season is like an out-of-tune gong for those grieving the deaths of family members or friends, struggling in the wake of a divorce, suffering the effects of broken relationships, experiencing financial hardship, or dealing with the effects of physical or mental illness in themselves or their loved ones.
My family has been marked in recent years by each one of these losses. There have been years when it has seemed as though all the most lovely gifts and warmest invitations were inscribed with the names of others. Advent’s practices of simplicity and themes of waiting have been a balm for me during the darkest days, as they’ve helped me to fight the temptation to compare what I don’t have with what I imagine others do. The prayers and hymns of Advent are rich with the language of longing, of groans too deep for words. My soul is familiar with the sound of those groans.
Even in congregations committed to the church calendar’s Advent worship cycle, church services during December can be a challenging place to be for those struggling with loss. Most church event calendars are full of various holiday gatherings, children’s programs, and other events that don’t always sync with those in mourning.
That is why I am appreciative of the churches that host Blue Christmas services at this time of year. [Read more]