Of all the services for the Christmas season, this one has become my favorite. It has seemed the most genuine, not marked by the trappings of a more secularized Christmas. It highlights the harsh reality that Mary and Joseph faced as Jesus was born among us
– difficult travel over rough terrain when 9 mos. Pregnant
- Under the control of the Roman gov’t that could demand such a journey
- No place to rest after a weary journey except amongst the orders of a stable
- No welcome or hospitality – could it have been b/c of the questionable situation regarding Mary’s pregnancy
But this year, while I knew that I needed this service, that I need the grace of this service, I have been scared as well. Do it want to face my own pain? How can I pastor others in the midst of my own sorrow?
This service invites us, invites me to be vulnerable, to touch those tender and hurting places that I have tried to keep busy and ignore, push aside for another day or just take a deep breath and endure. It offers a place of rest and comfort away from my own attempts to be strong and carry on
I looked through a variety of books and other resources so that I could avoid my own sorrow and focus elsewhere. There is surely someone else’s words that will suffice and will be acceptable under the circumstances. I have gotten fairly good at putting aside my own emotions, for the most part, over the years.
Death and sorrow are no strangers. I have faced many deaths and leavings throughout my life
- From the time of my birth when my twin sister died
- The death of my birth father before I was four
- While I was blessed to have five sets of grandparents, all 10 of them have died – the last and most difficult one being my Grandpa Berg to whom I felt the closest
- The death of my stepfather a year or two before I met Michael
- Have presided over at least 100 or more funerals in my years as serving as a pastor (with as many as 10 of them in the past few months)
- I have experienced a kind of death when I resigned from my last congregation and was on leave, from call, unemployed, for a year
- As well as the ending and changing of various relationships over the years
Death is no stranger and I have even “prided” myself on being a survivor amidst all these deaths; pulling myself up by those “proverbial boot straps” and getting on with what needs to be done until my grief catches me off guard and slides down my face
But this service, these words that I speak, that we share together this night are calling me to face the pain, the sorrow, the grief – to be honest with myself in the presence of God. It brings us to the manger, along with Mary and Joseph in the harshness of their own reality, in the dark nights of our own souls. And it is here that we meet Jesus.
God knows the pains and sorrows of our hearts better than we ourselves. While we may not always be able to name them – God knows them. When we don’t even want to voice them, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us in sighs too deep for words.
Christ was not born to brush away all the sorrows of this world, to whisk them away on the wind so that we would live a kind of “don’t worry, be happy” kind of life. We are met by Christ at the place of our sorrow. We are met by the One whose love is so powerful that it would face death itself, showing us that love never does end, that love overcomes death and sorrow, offering healing, hope and peace.
We come this evening to name our sorrows, our frustrations, our pain. In the naming, we are offering them to the Christ-child, not to “fix”, but to help us carry them. In the words of scripture, we hear the words of hope spoken by those who have gone before us, those who have faced pain and sorrow of their own. They share their own journeys through the “valley of the shadow of death”, knowing that God accompanied them in those times.
As we come to name before God our own sorrows on this longest of nights, we come seeking the peace and comfort of Christ. We come, magnifying the name of God – for he is the One from whom light shines in the darkness.
I end with a Blessing for the Longest Night written by Jan Richardson, following the death of her own husband a few years ago. May her words shine Christ’s light on us as well.