Christmas time is not always holly, jolly, or the happiest time of year for everyone. Grief, loss, anger, pain–a multitude of emotions can swirl around the holidays, and add to that our cultural notions of a nice, sanitized, perfect holiday…it’s easy to get lost and drown in a sea of shallow sentimentality and deep depression.
Our church offers a Longest Night service (this year held a few days before the longest night: Wednesday, Dec 18th), which acknowledges that the Christ child was born into a world of real darkness, a world of suffering, sorrow, and pain. We do not believe that when Jesus was born, “no crying he made.” A Savior who doesn’t cry with those who are crying, who does not suffer with those who are suffering, who does not know our pain and loss and grief, cannot fully redeem all of that. Our service acknowledges the heartbreak of the past year and offers hope and healing in the midst of it.
In addition to three wonderful hymns of the church that acknowledge our human suffering (O Come, O Come Emmanuel, It Came Upon the Midnight Clear, Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus), we will also hear two songs that I feel capture the mood of the service: Beta Radio’s “Winter Eclipse” and Jars of Clay’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”
Some of the lyrics that acknowledge the hurt and heartache in the midst of the holly and jolly:
From “Winter Eclipse”:
A star led the way, to the terrible display
In the dark, all waited
A sun drew near, when the light would appear
In the cold, celebrated
In the morning light I’d seen, through window and screen
Something so terrible, beautifully terrible
Silence and sound, on frozen ground
The only thing terrible, beautiful, terrible
On Christmas Eve, I’m always reminded of, the feeling that I love, by the love that I receive
Oh Christmas Day, the feeling I’ve waited for, I’m patient and I’m paying for, but the feeling always goes away
Santa Claus come soon!
You know we adore you! (I never knew)
We are waiting for you! (I never knew you)
Under the eclipsed moon! (Like you wanted me to)
I don’t know where I am
I can’t undo what I’ve done (I never knew)
Father send me your Son (I never knew you)
Can I go back to where I began (Like you wanted me to)
I don’t know where I am
I can’t undo what I’ve done
I know I’m not the right one
Can I go back to where I began?
From “I Heard the Bells” (originally by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, when he received word his son was wounded in a Civil War battle on Christmas day):
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
If you’re in the greater Travelers Rest/Greenville, SC area and are having a hard holiday, please join us at Travelers Rest United Methodist Church for the Longest Night Service on Wednesday, December 18 at 6:30pm. If you’re someplace else, please search for a Longest Night or Blue Christmas service at a local church–the UMC is connectional, so I may be able to help connect you with one–just ask!