A BLUE CHRISTMAS SERVICE FOR 2021
McClure United Church is not holding an in-person Blue Christmas Service this year. The public health orders governing worship services preclude the kind of intimacy that such a service would need to have. So, instead, we are offering this printed service for the very reason that we have often gathered together in the past, which is a recognition that the world’s Christmas festivities can often seem superficial and trivial to those who have been experiencing loss and sorrow, or who are struggling with reversals and trials in life. Thus, a service is needed that can get us beyond the tinsel and the froth, one to which we can bring our losses and name them, in which we can hear deeper words of hope than the world has to offer, and through which we might bind ourselves more closely to the one from whom we have true tidings of comfort and joy.
A few words of introduction:
While most who read this service will be by themselves as they do it, the prayers have been left in the plural as a reminder that we share in the communion of saints with those who have gone before us and those with whom we are unable to gather at this time.
Links have been provided so that those who are online can listen to the prelude, hymns, and postlude that are included in this service. Sadly, you may have to endure a few seconds of advertisements before the music is played.
You will want to have a candle beside you to light at the appropriate point in the service.
“Sleepers Wake” - J.S. Bach
As we prepare our hearts for worship we remember St. John’s testimony regarding the Christ:
“What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” - John 1:3-4
And also the testimony of St. Paul:
“The grace of God has dawned upon the world bringing healing and salvation for all.” - Titus 2:11
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Dear God, as in the darkness of the virgin’s womb the holy child has grown,
so in the darkness of the world’s pain the blessed light has begun to kindle.
In the darkness of our own doubting, of you and of ourselves,
the great hope has begun to rise again like a lump in the throat:
the hope that you will come to us truly,
that the child will be born again in our midst;
the hope that you will deliver us and all who walk in darkness
from discouragement and despair and bring us to new and abundant life.
O God, at Christmas time we hear of the fulfilling of our hopes,
but we know that the gift of new life, new light,
can be received only if we open ourselves to it.
So this is our prayer, Lord, as we bow in worship before you:
that you will open our eyes to see your glory
in the coming again of light in each new day;
that you will open our ears to hear the angel’s hymn
in the stirring within us of joy at the coming of the Christ Child;
that you will open our hearts to the transforming power of your love
as it comes to us through the love we share with and have received from
all those whom we hold and have held most dear.
“O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray;
cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.”
Be born among us that we might begin again.
Be born within us that we may ourselves be born.
“We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.” Amen.
HYMN “O Little Town of Bethlehem”
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by;
yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light;
the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary; and gathered all above,
while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars, together proclaim thy holy birth,
and praises sing to God the King, and peace to all on earth.
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming; but in this world of sin,
where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray:
cast out our sin, and enter in; be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel.
OLD TESTAMENT LESSON Isaiah 61:1-3
It was this passage from Isaiah that Jesus quoted in his first sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth.
The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion— to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.
NEW TESTAMENT LESSON Luke 2:1-16
The birth of the Messiah.
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
HYMN “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”
While shepherds watched their flocks by night all seated on the ground, the angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around.
“Fear not”, said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind; “glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and humankind.”
“To you, in David’s town this day is born of David’s line a Saviour who is Christ the Lord; and this shall be the sign:
“The heavenly babe you there shall find to human view displayed, all meanly wrapped in swaddling bands, and in a manger laid.”
Thus spake the seraph, and forthwith appeared a shining throng
of angels praising God, who thus addressed their joyful song:
“All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace; good will to all from highest heaven begin, and never cease.”
SERMON “The Joy that Is for All People””
When you are living with the loss of a loved one, there is probably no more difficult a time of the year than Christmas. The season of Christmas is a time for celebration, festivity, lightheartedness, merriment. But for bereaved people, celebrations are muted and mixed with tears. Hearts are heavy, and memories are made more poignant by the thought that there will not be another Christmas spent together on this earth with someone they have loved.
Even for those of us who are not bereaved Christmas has become a difficult time. The pandemic has undermined those personal and family traditions that we keep so religiously year after year. In 2020, the Campbells—Robert, Linda, and James—sat down to a Christmas dinner by themselves, something they had never done before. It just didn’t feel right. There was an emptiness about it. A Zoom call earlier in the afternoon with Robert’s siblings and their families was greatly appreciated, but it was a far cry from visiting in the same room, as we had done for so many Christmases before.
What we are all experiencing right now is loss, and while our experiences of loss vary in their severity, depending on our individual circumstances, they are nonetheless difficult for all of us. Yet, in the midst of these troubled times, we make an interesting discovery: While the froth and tinsel of Christmas doesn’t cut it right now, the Christmas carols of the church and Christmas readings of the Bible do. They seem to be speaking to the very questions that the intrusion of the pandemic and the reality of death are forcing us to ask. And we listen more attentively, for now it really makes a difference whether their words are true.
For many of us much may be lost this Christmas. But one thing is not lost to those who are mourning in faith, and that is the joy that was promised by the angel who spoke to the shepherds: “See, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
The angel used the words, “For all the people.” Well, if the joy of Christmas were the result of what we were able to make of this season, it would not be a joy for all this year. But it is a joy that arises out of what God does, and out of what God makes of the season, and it is a joy for all, even for those who mourn.
What is this joy? “To you is born in the city of David a Saviour.” God is with us. God is here. God has come down to earth from heaven. That is our joy. And what a different joy it is. The joys of our Christmas customs so often require a departure from our normal routine and everyday circumstances. They require us to set aside for a time our cares and concerns and duties. And of course, that is impossible for many of us this year. But, the joy that is for all comes into our lives where life is really lived; it comes to us in those places from which we can manufacture no escape. God does not produce our joy by creating a special time or a special situation in which all is well. Rather, God invests ordinary time—and troubled time—with a special person.
The joy of Christ’s coming is a joy that is for all because, unlike other joys, it is available even to those who have no power to command the course of life, which is the reality for all of us.
In the story in Luke, it is those least able to make things go the way they want, shepherds, to whom the angel speaks. They belong in this story, not just because they serve to connect Jesus with the shepherd king, David, but because they belong on the guest list for the kingdom of God: the poor, the maimed, the blind; the poor in spirit, the meek, the mourners. And it is not during festivities, but at work, doing their ordinary duties, living life as it comes, that these men are brought into the story. And where are they sent to, but Bethlehem, where the bureaucrats are conducting a census and people are paying their taxes. There is no break in this story from the stuff of everyday, no precious, holiday season. Yet, still the joy comes.
And what is the sign of this joy? It is the birth of a babe. When people cannot rise to the heights, God stoops to the depths. God is there not just for those with means to create their joy, but for those who have no means. For those must do without, God does without. For those who suffer, God comes and lies in a manger. And hope begins to be born in a God who cares, a God who shares their losses that one day they might share God's riches.
The joy of Christ's coming is a joy that is for all—even those who mourn—because, in it, God addresses the anxiety of us all, the anxiety which, ironically, we try to block out with our multiplicity of Christmas customs; and which the pagans before us attempted to combat with their celebrations of the winter solstice: the anxiety that beyond us there is nothing but a void—darkness. God addresses the need of us all, the need to know that beyond us there is not darkness, but light, not a void, but God—a God to whom we may come and who comes to us, even to those of us who feel the least deserving, who feel we have the least claim on him because we have so little claim on anything else in life.
God comes in the Child of Bethlehem. Of course, that is not the end of it. The child grows and prepares for his life’s work. There is a baptism and a ministry and an unfolding of God's kingdom in his teachings and in his person. Finally, there is a cross. But before the cross, a conversation with those who have followed him: “Do not let your hearts be troubled...In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” Well, he would know, wouldn't he?
“I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, you may be also.” And somehow you know this is a promise on which you can stake everything, for he wouldn’t have come down and been born at night among the beasts if he hadn’t really meant it, if he hadn’t been prepared to go to any length to save us and give us the life that is eternal.
And so, friends, we are not alone. We may hope to dwell with God, for God has come to dwell with us. And if Luke is right, God is with us no matter how far removed we may feel from the so-called joys of the season. We do not have to make this Christmas season. God has made it for us. God has brought a joy that is for all people.
HYMN “Once in Royal David’s City”
Once in royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle-shed,
where a mother laid her baby in a manger for his bed.
Mary was that mother mild, Jesus Christ her little child.
He came down to earth from heaven, who is God and Lord of all, and his shelter was a stable, and his cradle was a stall; with the poor, and mean, and lowly, lived on earth our Saviour holy.
And through all his wondrous childhood he would honour and obey, love and watch the lowly maiden, in whose gentle arms he lay: Christian children all must be mild, obedient, good as he.
For he is our childhood’s pattern; day by day, like us he grew; he was little, weak and helpless, tears and smiles like us he knew; and he feeleth for our sadness, and he shareth in our gladness.
And our eyes at last shall see him, through his own redeeming love,
for that child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heaven above;
and he leads his children on to the place where he is gone.
Not in that poor lowly stable, with the oxen standing by, we shall see him; but in heaven, set at God’s right hand on high; where like stars his children crowned all in white shall wait around.
It is time to light a candle.
Some of us do it to remember those whom we have loved and lost.
We pause to call to mind their names, their faces, their voices, their manner….
We give thanks for the memory that binds them to us.
Some of us do it to acknowledge the disorientation, the loneliness, the separation
that has come upon us because of the intrusion of the virus.
We express our pain that the times are out of joint.
Some of us do it because life has turned against us
and we don’t know where to turn or from whence our help will come.
In lighting a candle we remember our losses
and those who have helped us through our times of loss,
who have stood with us in the times of disbelief and anger and depression,
who have held our hands and given us hugs, whether in person or from a distance,
and so have helped us make it through the day and to face the night.
And, in lighting a candle, we remember our faith
and the gift of hope that the Christmas story offers to us.
We renew our trust in our Creator’s promise of a place and time
when isolation and pain and suffering and death shall be no more.
Indeed, we remember the Child of Bethlehem,
the Word made flesh, who came to share our life.
“In him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
And, we affirm, “the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.”
You are invited to light a candle for the losses you would like to lift to God for healing.
You may wish to speak aloud or offer silently the name of the person or the nature of the loss.
HYMN “Away in a Manger”
Away in a manger no crib for a bed, the little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head. The stars in the bright sky looked down where he lay, the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
The cattle are lowing the baby awakes, but little Lord Jesus no crying he makes. I love you Lord Jesus; look down from the sky, and stay by my side until morning is nigh.
Be near me Lord Jesus I ask you to stay close by me for ever, and love me, I pray. bless all the dear children in your tender care, and fit us for heaven, to live with you there.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
In this most holy season, we come, O God,
to join our voices with the choirs of angels,
to journey with the shepherds and wise men to the stable,
to behold the young mother as she cradles her holy child,
and, with her, to ponder these wonderful things in our hearts.
With us we bring our hurts and hopes and the hurts and hopes of the world.
In this season of excess, we remember all who are empty—
neighbours who are unemployed,
folk whose dreams have been shattered,
folk whose futures have been frustrated—
that they might be filled by the one born to bring hope.
In this season of carols, we remember all in our midst who have little to sing about—
those who have been betrayed, abandoned, or rejected,
those who are lonely, depressed, anxious, or sick—
that they might be given voice by the one born to heal.
In this season of festivity, we remember all who face the harsh reality of oppression—
prisoners, refugees, exiles, the tortured—
that they may be comforted by the one born to bear a cross.
In this season of joy, we remember those who sorrow—
all who are bereaved and weighed down by loss.
We pray that we and all who mourn might be renewed in heart and soul
by the one who was born to conquer death and open the gates to everlasting life.
Strengthen us in our weakness, calm our troubled spirits, and dispel our doubts and fears.
Renew our trust in your promise that, by the power of your love,
we shall one day be brought together again with those whom we have loved and lost awhile.
O God, our lives have been interrupted and changed by the pandemic,
and so we offer a special prayer that you would bring
healing to those who have been sickened by the coronavirus,
consolation to those who are mourning the loss of loved ones,
comfort to those who are experiencing isolation and loneliness,
wisdom to our leaders and public health officers,
endurance to those who care for the sick and to all essential workers,
success to researchers and scientists working to secure vaccines and treatments,
and patience to us all who must cope with many restrictions until it is safe again.
These things we ask through the one who went about healing the sick and bestowing new life, the very one who lay in a manger, who hung on a cross, and who burst from the tomb, our Emanuel, our God-with-us, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN “Silent Night! Holy Night!”
Silent night! holy night! All is calm, all is bright. round yon virgin mother and child. Holy infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. Silent night! Holy night! Shepherds quake at the sight. Glories stream from heaven afar, heavenly hosts sing Hallelujah, Christ the Saviour is born.
Silent night! Holy night! Son of God, love’s pure light radiant beams from thy holy face, with dawn of redeeming grace, Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Another day will come, O God. I know not what it may bring forth,
but make me ready for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, help me do it gallantly;
all with the help of the one
who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed, and the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, in your mercy, grant us safe lodging,
and a holy rest, and peace at the last;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And now may he who by his incarnation
gathered into one things earthly and heavenly,
fill us with the fullness of inward peace and good will;
and the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be upon us and remain with us always. Amen.
“O Magnum Mysterium” - Morten Lauridsen
O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
iacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
Dominum Iesum Christum.
O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the newborn Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
the Lord, Jesus Christ.