Blue Christmas Transformed

By Rev. Chris Jorgensen

December 12, 2021

Video of entire service: https://www.facebook.com/hanscomparkchurch/videos/1225373391206997 

Scripture: Luke 1:5-12; 57-64; 67-79

photo of interior of hanscom sanctuary with wreath and candles in foreground

I want to start by offering you a blessing today. This is a poem, a prayer, a blessing by Jan Richardson. Perhaps close your eyes if you would like and be in an attitude of prayer as you hear these words.

This is called “A Blessing When the World Is Ending:”

Look, the world
is always ending
somewhere.

Somewhere
the sun has come
crashing down.

Somewhere
it has gone
completely dark.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the gun,
the knife,
the fist.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the slammed door,
the shattered hope.

Somewhere
it has ended
with the utter quiet
that follows the news
from the phone,
the television,
the hospital room.

Somewhere
it has ended
with a tenderness
that will break
your heart.

But, listen,
this blessing means
to be anything but morose.
It has not come
to cause despair.

It is here
simply because
there is nothing
a blessing
is better suited for
than an ending,
nothing that cries out more
for a blessing
than when a world
is falling apart.

This blessing
will not fix you,
will not mend you,
will not give you
false comfort;
it will not talk to you
about one door opening
when another one closes.

It will simply
sit itself beside you
among the shards
and gently turn your face
toward the direction
from which the light
will come,
gathering itself
about you
as the world begins
again.

I wanted to offer you that blessing this morning because I have talked to lots of people this last week about their struggles and burdens. I’ve talked with folks about mental health struggles (their own and those of people they love), mental and physical illnesses of cherished children and grandchildren, estranged family relationships, broken partnerships, deaths of parents, deaths of friends and acquaintances, COVID lockdowns and conflicts and alienation, people who have been harmed by angry & hurtful words, those struggling to find work, those dreading the empty nest even as they long for their young people to fly. So many things about which we worry and grieve and fear. Not one of them with an easy solution or magic cure.

I’ve heard so much, in fact, that I feel like I have failed you a little bit by picking the Elizabeth story to explore this week. You heard her story – it’s kind of spread out over the whole first chapter of the Gospel of Luke – hence the long, spliced-together reading. The story starts with Elizabeth and Zechariah. They are old, getting on in years. Elizabeth is living in longing and sadness and shame. In Elizabeth’s day not having any children was not just sad but carried this extra burden of being seen as something to be ashamed of. 

So Elizabeth longs for a child and through miraculous means, Elizabeth gets what she prays for. She becomes pregnant against all odds and bears a child.

Like I said, I feel like I have failed you a little bit by picking Elizabeth’s story because she gets what she prays for. Because of all the people I talked to this week…well, I know we were all praying out hearts out to God. But not many of us were getting what we prayed for. Not many of us were just having our situations and stations miraculously changed so that we no longer had to deal with the brokenness and struggle that we are carrying.

So why do we keep praying?

I found some wisdom on this from the Rabbi Harold Kushner. You might recognize his name. He wrote a book called When Bad Things Happen to Good People. The book is dedicated to his son Aaron. Aaron died at the age of 14 of a genetic disease called progeria. That was five years before Kushner wrote this book. So besides just being an ordained rabbi and highly educated scholar and teacher, Kushner knew something about bad things happening.

He wrote this: “We can’t pray that God will make our lives free of problems; this won’t happen, and it is probably just as well… But people who pray for courage, for strength to bear the unbearable, for the grace to remember what they have left instead of what they have lost, very often find their prayers answered. They discover they have more strength, more courage than they ever knew themselves to have. Where did they get it? I like to think that their prayers helped them find that strength. Their prayers helped them tap reserves of faith and courage which were not available to them before.”

Yes. Courage. That’s certainly what God gives. I believe that this is true. God is truly with us. We are never left to face our burdens alone. God gives us strength and courage and hope beyond all expectation. 

Yet this is not ALL that God gives us. It’s just us on our knees alone and locked in a room where God gives us strength.

God gives us the gift of one another. God gives us community to help us carry our burdens and share our joy. When I truly love you, your joy becomes mine. When you truly love me, my burdens become yours, and they are easier to carry together. In Elizabeth’s story, God gives her a whole community to rejoice with her when her baby is born. Family members, friends, this church community – God gives us the gift of one another to multiply the joy and divide the sorrow. You’ve heard me say that before.

As I read the story of Elizabeth this week, I also noticed another thing about her miracle. I noticed that God blesses Elizabeth FOR the good of the whole community. Elizabeth’s son John is not just something Elizabeth and Zechariah wanted for themselves. This is highlighted when the community expects Elizabeth and Zechariah to give the baby a family name. But they do not. John doesn’t just belong to them. John belongs to God’s story of redemption for all people. By giving him the name John, they offer their son, their joy, their redemption for God’s purposes.

We hear Zechariah speak a prophecy that names this. His words name that John has come not just to make his parents happy – though he has – but John has come to herald Jesus. John has come to prepare all people to receive new life. Because of what John is going to do, the scripture says:

“78 By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”        

Peace and light for all people: that is what sprang forth from Elizabeth’s longing and grief. Not just a baby for her and Zechariah – but a role for them all in the redemption and restoration of God’s people. It was a blessing beyond their expectation and imagination.

I believe, that even when we don’t get what we pray for, God is still with us. I have seen this in my life, and I have seen it in others who have cared for me because someone had cared for them in their time of need. I believe that the compassion God seeds in us through our suffering can be transformed to help us play our role in God’s story of redemption for the whole world. 

So, as we face our grief and fear and burdens on this Blue Christmas, I can only tell you where I find hope. Hope, for me, does not come from praying for a miracle that will magically end my suffering (though I do pray for that, too). Hope comes from knowing that there is a community that can help me carry my suffering, and there is a God who can transform it for God’s purposes. Hope comes from knowing I am not alone and that my suffering might transform me…so that one day I can help someone else carry that same burden. The miracle is when my desire for my own happiness changes into desiring well-being for another person, for the community, and all of creation. 

God-with-us, Emmanuel, is present in all our suffering and working with power and might to transform it and transform us so that we can love one another into wholeness.

So I’d like to end today with one more blessing for you, again by Jan Richardson. This is the “Blessing to Summon Rejoicing.”

When your weeping
has watered
the earth.

When the storm
has been long
and the night
and the season
of your sorrowing.

When you have seemed
in exile
from your life,
lost in the far country,
a long way from where
your comfort lies.

When the sound
of splintering
and fracture
haunts you.

When despair
attends you.

When lack.
When trouble.
When fear.
When pain.

When empty.
When lonely.
When too much
of what depletes you
and not enough
of what restores
and rests you.

Then let there be
rejoicing.

Then let there be
dreaming.

Let there be
laughter in your mouth
and on your tongue
shouts of joy.

Let the seeds
soaked by tears
turn to grain,
to bread,
to feasting.

Let there be
coming home.

 

May it be so. 

Amen.

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