Sunday, December 7, 2014

Blue Christmas 2014 Reflections

To go with this service

The Cloud of Despair, The Candle of Hope:
My God My God, why have you forsaken me. Is there any better cry of despair? The early church put these words of despair on the lips of Jesus as they told the story of the crucifixion. Despair is real. It is part of being human. It may have various shades and intensities but we all feel despair at some time in our life.

Despair can suck the life out of us. If we sink too deep despair can convince us that there is no point trying. It disguises itself as “realism”. It tells us that the realistic viewpoint is that things won't get better. If we aren't careful despair can convince us that even God has left us, that we are indeed forsaken.

But the Gospel message counters the world's despair with God's hope. The Good News of faith reminds us that we are not alone. Those verses from Paul's letter to the Roman church are some of the best words to counter despair. They don't promise that life will be perfect. But they do promise that no matter what happens God will be with us. We will not be forsaken. And in that lies our hope.

Centuries ago, Dame Julian of Norwich shared these words that echo through time: “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of thing be well”. Julian knew that life was not even close to perfect. She knew that life was often disastrous – because she had seen many disasters. But she knew that God was there and that in the long term God's love and will would prevail. She had hope.

And now, remembering the hope shared by Paul and by Julian, we light this candle of hope, that it may shine brightly in our lives when the cloud of despair threatens to overtake us...


The Haze of Busy-ness, The Candle of Peace:
It sneaks up on us sometimes. Without thinking much about it we agree to one thing and then another, all of which are good in and of them selves. And suddenly we find that we don't have enough time to do everything we have agreed to AND all the things we want to do for ourselves AND all the things we want to do with our family. And maybe we start to feel that we are just going through the motions, just doing things to get them done, but not really enjoying them or no longer sure they are worthwhile.

And sometimes we do it on purpose. Sometimes being busy seems better than the alternative. Maybe time that isn't filled with “stuff” leaves us with time to think or feel things that are uncomfortable. Maybe being busy allows us to cope – at least for a little while.

But being that busy can't last. Our energy just can't sustain it for too long. And so eventually our bodies and souls make us stop. Then what. Are we left resentful of the things we missed out on? Are we left exhausted, not ready to deal with those things we were trying to avoid? Now what do we do?
The Psalmist gives us an answer. “Be still, and know that I am God!”. We counter the busy-ness of life (whatever the source of the busy-ness) by letting go and letting God. The peace we crave lies in trusting God, in adding stillness into our lives, and so leaving space for God to calm our souls and nerves.

As we search for peace, as we try to peer through the haze of busy-ness, we light this candle. May it's light shine through the haze, clearing our vision, acting as a beacon drawing us towards the peace of God...


The Gloom of Sorrow, The Candle of Joy:
It is a part of everybody's life at one time or another. Sorrow. Sometimes just for a moment or two, sometimes it forms a tub around us and we sit and soak, sometimes it feels like a morass from which we cannot escape, but in every life are periods of sorrow.

But to feel sorrow when we are expected to be happy is hard. When the world is in “Joy to the World” mode and joy feels far from our hearts we can feel out of step. And even if there sorrow is mixed with moments of joy there is still the shadow, the darkness that takes the brightness away. And we might wonder if this is alright.

But here is the thing. Christmas comes into the world just as it is. The Christ-child is born into a world just as it is. Not a perfect world. The birth of Christ did not suddenly make everything perfect. Jesus lives and works in a world where people are in pain and speaks to the power of God to transform the world, to bring healing to the pain. In Luke's Gospel Jesus begins his ministry with these words from Isaiah. Jesus comes to bring release to those held captive, Jesus comes to bring a garland instead of ashes, Jesus comes to bring comfort to those who mourn. Jesus comes to awaken joy in hearts made heavy with sorrow.

And so, as we await the birth of the Christ-child, as we wait for the year of God's favour, we light this candle of Joy. We trust that it will shine in the gloom of our sorrow, reminding us that joy and sorrow are both a part of our lives in the past, the present, and the future...


The Shadow of Fear, The Candle of Love:
What is the opposite of love? Is it hate? Is it anger? Is it indifference? I don't think so, Hate is not the opposite of love, it is more the shadow-side of love, love misdirected. Anger is sometimes spurred by love, it is sometimes a tool of love (and sometimes a tool of love's shadow). Indifference may be the lack of love but still is not quite its opposite. So what IS the opposite of love?

I think a therapist of mine several years ago was right. The opposite of love is fear. As evidence, I point out that scripture tells us that perfect love casts out all fear.

There are lots of things that breed fear in our lives. Grief. Uncertainty. Change. Anything that feels like a threat. And fear is a normal part of life, fear is something that can protect us, or at least spur us to take action to protect ourselves. But it can get in the way of life. If it gets too powerful fear can stop us from taking risks, from embracing the possibilities of life.

One of the most common instructions we find in Scripture is some variation of “Don't Be Afraid”. In these words from Isaiah we are told not to be afraid because God is with us, because God will strengthen and sustain us. In times of change and uncertainty, in the depths of grief, when we are sure we will be overwhelmed God is there to keep us from being washed away. The God who has loved us since before our birth keeps the water and the fire from destroying us.

And so we light this candle to drive away the shadow of fear, leaving room for the strength and power of love to fill our hearts and souls.

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