What a funny pair of words – “Blue Christmas.” I am sure any kid can tell you that Christmas is red and green and not blue. Blue is a cold word, even a sad word, possibly, and Christmas, as everyone knows, is a happy time. At Christmas our hearts are full of joy, we sing carols, we play with the kids in the family, we enjoy gift giving, eating too much and possibly drinking too much. Right?
But that is not always the case. You might be thinking “Since my spouse passed Christmas is not the same anymore.” Or “I am too sick this year to even think of celebrating.” Or “I need to be looking after my mom not chasing my tail shopping. She is in hospice care here at home; I am not up to doing any celebrations.” Or “I am so depressed; I don’t know where I am and I certainly don’t want to be hugging Santa and saying ‘Merry Christmas’ to everyone.”
Your story is unique and you may have nothing in common with any of the above sentiments other than that you do not see Christmas as a fun time or want to be forced to celebrate. This is where the invitation to a “Blue Christmas” service comes in.
The “Blue Christmas” service welcomes you to come and experience the essence of Christmas in a quiet, reflective way. It allows for the Christ child to be born in your heart in candle-lit silence, with only soft music and heart-felt prayers, which recognize the hurting and pain that fills your heart.
Here at Church of the Messiah in Chester we offer such a service on the last Saturday before Christmas. We sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” to welcome God whose nativity we once again remember. We light each Advent candle in turn; the first one remembering those whom we have loved and lost, giving thanks for them and the memories we have of them. After a verse of “Silent Night” we light the second candle to redeem the pain of loss, asking God for the gift of God’s peace. Another verse of “Silent Night” leads us to light the third candle reflecting on the difficult times we have had and our own mortality. The third verse of “Silent Night” brings us to the lighting of the fourth candle in which we remember our faith and the gift of hope God gives us in the incarnation and the promise of eternal life, free from pain and suffering.
Passages of scripture are read, Isaiah 61 telling how the Lord anointed him to bring good news to the oppressed, and then we read the Magnificat and hear the Christmas message from Titus. The sequence hymn is “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” and the Gospel passage is the Annunciation from Luke 1. A homily follows. The prayers are read from the back of the church, prayers which ask God to be with us in these difficult times of pain, losses, sadness and fear.
From the Paschal candle, brought forward and lit, everyone is invited to come and light candles, set out on a low table. We share Christ’s peace and then Holy Eucharist. The organ solo “What Child is This?” is played during Communion and everyone is invited to receive a candle to light and hold while the music fills the space. The closing hymn is “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” and people leave – or stay – as they wish. I make myself available to anyone who wishes to stay, talk, weep or just be, in silence.
So we are reminded “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it,” no matter how much it seems like the darkness is winning.
While this service is the one we offer, others called “Blue Christmas” may be similar or quite different. But they will all invite you to be quiet and reflective, and to know that despite the aching in your heart God is with you, Emmanuel, and God loves you. God loves you so much God chose to come to live with you and all of us on earth.
Thanks be to God for this wonderful Christmas gift.
The Rev. Margaret Otterburn is Rector of Church of the Messiah in Chester.
“Blue Christmas” services in the Diocese of Newark
Thursday, December 8
Morris Plains – St. Paul’s Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church of Morris Plains (400 Speedwell Ave.)
7:30 PM – Blue Christmas Prayer Service
Saturday, December 17
Hope – Episcopal Church of St. Luke and St. Mary (346 High St.)
3:00 PM – Blue Christmas Service
Chester – Church of the Messiah (50 State Rte. 24 -- aka County Rte. 513)
5:00 PM – Blue Christmas Service
Sunday, December 18
Morristown – Church of the Redeemer (36 South St.)
7 PM – Longest Night Service
Tuesday, December 20
Upper Montclair – St. James Episcopal Church (581 Valley Rd.)
7 PM – A Blue Service
Verona – Holy Spirit Episcopal Church and the First Presbyterian Church (10 Fairview Ave.)
7:30 PM – Blue Christmas Healing Service
Wednesday, December 21
Hackensack – The Episcopal Churches of: Christ Church, Hackensack; St. Cyprian's, Hackensack; St. John the Divine, Hasbrouck Heights and St. Martin's, Maywood
7 PM – Blue Christmas Service (at Christ Church, 251 State St.)
Millburn – St. Stephen's (119 Main St.)
7 PM – Blue Christmas Candlelight Service