In what has become an annual tradition with no connection to Elvis, churches around the country are sponsoring “blue Christmas” services aimed at people for whom the joys of the holiday season are elusive. Candles are still lit and ornaments hung, but they symbolize different things. For instance in one church, tree ornaments were pieces of paper inscribed with the names of people who had died or who were suffering particular hardship. Christmas merriment exacerbates personal pain for people who grieve during December, so having a place to hang their sorrows helps. “This time of year is just terrible for some people,” said one participant, “but this reminds us of our faith in Christ and how much we need to help each other.”
I do find it ironic that Christmas expectations of peace and joy come to dominate the tenor of the season given that the Christmas story itself is such a downer, what with all of its scandal, homelessness, poverty, loss and infanticide. Sure, the angels pronounce “peace of earth,” but that’s proven to be little more than fodder for greeting cards. If we’re reading our Bibles, then every Christmas service is unavoidably blue.
And yet as Christians we appreciate that this is not a bad thing. As writer Diana Butler-Bass points out
Only by noticing what is wrong, seeing the systems and structures that do not foster health and happiness, can we ever make things different. If people were satisfied, there would be no reason to reach for more, no motivation for creativity and innovation. Discontent is one short step from the longing for a better life, a better society, and a better world; and longing is another short step from doing something about what is wrong. Indeed, restlessness possesses a spiritual quality: “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” said Jesus, “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). [Excerpt From: Diana Butler Bass. “Christianity After Religion.” HarperCollins. iBooks.
So go ahead, grab a box of tissues and crank up the melancholic tones of George Winston. You may find yourself in the true spirit of the season after all.