We entered in the darkness tonight, friends. On the longest day of the year, we entered into a dark room. Already, we have lit together two candles. We light candles to remind of God’s presence. We light candles to call our own attention to God. Pay attention tonight to the light. It might be easy to look for the darkness, but look for the light.
It was five years ago, at a Blue Christmas, I served a church where we read all of the name of 27 people killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. We read each and every one of those names. This year, there have been 413 mass shootings with 574 (just in the United States) killed including in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs. (1) Our pain is corporate.
It was ten years ago, at a Blue Christmas, that I served a church where we sat with a family who made the impossible decision to end the pregnancy of a little one who could not live. We pray for everyone who has difficult medical and family decisions to make this season and through the year. Our pain is personal.
Generations before us have known this pain of carrying agony into what wants to be a jubilant time. The expectant joy of Christmas that collides with the reality of lingering and undetermined medical diagnoses, missing loved ones, jobs that can not stretch across the economic dreams of a holly jolly Christmas, and family dynamics that have more twists and turns than toys underneath the Christmas trees.
Light a candle in the dark.
Generations have waited with angst and torment wanting all of the pain and the suffering, the hurt and the loneliness to be summarily eliminated and replaced with happiness and lightness. Generations have called out to the Lord, how long must we wait? When, O Lord, will you come?
We come this evening, not to wallow in our own pity. We come this evening, not to give up. We come this evening, to light candles and return to the source of hope. Christmas is not about holly and jolly. Friends, you and I have been sold a bill of goods and given a catchy jingle that has made for good marketing. Together, we seek our Redeemer, our Rescuer, Jesus, who brings us together.
Did you know there was also a mass shooting on December 14th, twenty years before Sandy Hook, in 1992. At Simon’s Rock College in Western Massachusetts, Greg Gibson’s son, Galen was among those murdered that day. Greg reached out the families of the shooting at Sandy Hook. He found out the Daniel Barden, a first grader killed at Sandy Hook shared a birthday with his son, Galen. Now, Greg and Mark, Daniel’s father have met and journeyed. Together, they have walked a specific path of parental grief, no one ever wants to walk. (2) Together, they have talked about the unusual coincidence and what action might come out of their shared grief. They have begun legislation to limit firearms as well as educate others around issues of mental illness. Together, they have found solace and hope.
Light a candle in the dark.
Tonight, we, too coming, looking for the source of hope. The source of hope, when Christmas feels empty and without its magic. Often, Christmas acts for us like a time machine, reminding us of other Christmas eves that we have experienced. It also invites us into nostalgia, both memories of what has been and what we wished might have been. In our grief, we choose how to navigate the future, you and I. We choose whether or not to put up the tree. We choose if this is the year we want to fill our social calendar with events and occasions or remain at home with movies and books.
Light another candle in the dark.
We, often imagine, we are the only ones struggling with the blueness of Christmas. Friends, your friends and neighbors know the challenges of Christmas as you do. But also, let me remind you. For the nativity, life is as real as it gets. Twenty minutes after the camera zoomed off the perfect image of nativity, Jesus might have begun wailing and Mary, too. It is hard to have a baby, after all. When Joseph might have offered comfort, Mary might really have wanted her mother or her girlfriends or to be anywhere, besides in a stable. And God was still there, right in the middle of the picture.
Christmas is God’s incarnation. God came to Earth as a baby. Babies are the most vulnerable among us. Even when we imagine that others are more vulnerable, remember that we use the language of infant and baby to describe, just how vulnerable they are. God came to live and walk on the earth, so that we, you and I, would understand God is always with us. Even when we are remarkably convinced that we are utterly alone. Jesus’ birth whispers in our ears that God is still with us.
Later in our time together, we will light candles to remember. We will also light candles against the darkness. You will notice the votive candles to light as well as the blue candles with which to light them. The blue candles are for you to take with you. Blue is the color of hope. As you light your candle, look forward with hope to Christ’s coming, God’s presence in your life, and the comfort of God in the midst of suffering.
This is the good news, the gospel. Jesus is Emmanuel. God with us.
Thanks be to God,