Every year, our church offers a “Blue Christmas” service, specially designed for those who find the holidays difficult. This was my sermon for Blue Christmas 2016, preached on Sunday afternoon, December 18.
We gather here today because we are finding Christmas difficult this year. There are many possible reasons for that. Perhaps someone you love has died, or is far away. Perhaps a relationship is falling apart. Perhaps you are dealing with a serious illness. Perhaps you are under a lot of stress. Or perhaps it’s something else. Whatever it is, you know that life is sometimes hard. And you know that when life is hard at Christmastime, it can feel doubly hard.
Sure, Christmas is the happiest time of year for some people. And maybe it used to be the happiest time of year for you. But not this year. Sometimes all Christmas seems to do is remind us. Remind us that things aren’t the way they used to be. Remind us that this year won’t be like other years. It is so hard to let go of the past at Christmastime.
And that’s no surprise, because if you think about it, the way we celebrate Christmas in our culture is all about the past. All about trying to relive a past from a long time ago. Think about traditions. In so many families, Christmas involves certain foods, certain rituals, at certain people’s homes. Traditions intended to give us comfort in a world that keep changing. And think about the music. How many new Christmas songs make it into the rotation on the radio? Not many. Most are from fifty years ago or more. And think about Santa Claus. What does just about every American adult share in common? A memory of loving Santa Claus, and a memory of finding out he’s not real. A memory of finding out that such an important part of our childhood was false. On some level, Santa Claus reminds us all of a childhood we can never get back.
In a way, Christmas is all about the past. Which is okay, but it’s no wonder that when things change, when we suffer a loss in our lives, Christmas just makes it so much worse. And we just want the Christmas spirit back. The spirit we used to have. But we can’t get it back. The past doesn’t come back.
But here’s the secret about Christmas. The true meaning of Christmas is not in the past. It’s in the present. It’s right now. The true meaning of Christmas is a promise that God made to us, a promise God is fulfilling right now. The promise to always be with us. The promise that the people who lived in darkness would see light. Not a promise that things would be the way they used to be, but a promise that there would be new hope and new joy. The true meaning of Christmas is not about our own past, our own traditions. And the true meaning of Christmas is not even about what happened so long ago in Bethlehem. Forget Bethlehem. Forget shepherds and angels and wise men and Mary and Joseph. Forget baby Jesus. That is a beautiful story, an important story, a good story. A story we will tell again in just a few days. But that story is about the past, and Christmas is about present. Here’s the secret: Christmas is not about the birth of Jesus. Not really. Not directly. Christmas is about God coming to us. Coming into our lives, here and now, coming into our hearts today. Certainly the birth of Jesus is a sign of that. And if that story brings you comfort, then by all means, cherish that story. But the true meaning is bigger than that story. The deepest meaning is closer to us than that. The real meaning of Christmas is that Christ is born in us and among us today.
Gently healing us. Gathering us in his arm. Removing our burden. Giving us life. Forgiving us. Gently enabling us to forgive ourselves, to let go of our anger, our pain, our despair. Christ is born in us and among us today.
I know that’s hard to see. I know it’s not easy. And I know this healing isn’t quick. But Christ has time. Christ has patience. And slowly, slowly, he is working a miracle in you, the miracle that opens your heart to hope, to light, to life.
And so this year, I invite you to honor your pain. Honor it, for it is real. Don’t put it on a shelf, and say, it’s Christmastime, I have to be happy. Your suffering is real, and it’s alright to feel that way.
And I also invite you to trust that even amid that pain, Christ is being born in you today. Christ is being born in you, and he is with you, and he will gently bring you hope, and light, and life.