Text: Luke 2:1-7 (the birth of Jesus). Below is a liturgy of lighting Advent candles and a reflection offered last night at a "Blue Christmas" service at Wesley United Church in Rockglen Saskatchewan.
Over the last four Sundays, we have lit four candles on our Advent wreath. Tonight, we will re-light these candles one by one. As each one is lit, I have a few words to say on the theme of the candle. And after those words, I suggest that we take a moment in silence to think about the theme.
Our first candle represents hope. We value hope because there is so much suffering and loss in our lives and in the world. We believe that God in Christ offers us a firm source of hope. But it is a hope that lies in going deeper into life's valleys instead of avoiding them. Jesus is God with Us, which means that he is with us in life's despair as well as its joy. Let us now spend a moment in silence as we reflect on the light of God's hope against the darkness of the difficulties in this world . . .
Our second candle represents peace. We value peace because there is still so much conflict in our lives and in the world. We believe that God in Christ offers us the firm promise of peace. But it is a peace that comes from struggling with life's conflicts and not by avoiding them. Jesus leads us to peace through non-violent resistance to those who bully us and those who would take us to war. Let us now spend a moment in silence as we reflect on the light of God's peace against the backdrop of conflict that still remains in the world . . .
Our third candle represents joy. We value joy because there is so much pain and unhappiness in the world. We believe that God in Christ offers us a sure source of unshakeable joy. But it is a joy that grows as we go deeper into life's troubles instead of avoiding them. Let us now spend a moment in silence as we reflect on the light of God's joy against the dark backdrop of the pain that still remains in the world . . .
Our fourth and final candle represents love. We value love above everything else in life because love is the source of growth and healing. We believe that God in Christ offers us a sure source of love. But it is a love that grows when we accept Jesus' help to join him on the Way of the Cross. By dying to our old ways of life, Jesus offers us new life in Christ, which is a life of never-ending love. So let us now spend a moment in silence as we reflect on the light of God's love against the backdrop of the pain of dying to an old way of life on the Way of the Cross.
Every year, Christians around the world celebrate at the darkest time of the year. It is a celebration of God With Us, Emmanuel. It is a celebration of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem so many years ago.
But the scene at Jesus' birth is not a triumphant one. While we call Jesus the King of Kings, he is born in a humble stable to a poor young woman. Like all babies, Jesus is born helpless and dependent. He is also born as a fugitive. No sooner have the wise men and the shepherds left, than Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt to escape a campaign of King Herod to murder newborns in Bethlehem.
The humble conditions of Jesus' birth as our Messiah link up in my mind with the very humble and painful conditions of Jesus' death on the cross thirty years later.
At both Christmas and Easter, we have good reasons, I believe, to celebrate the good news of God's solidarity with us and of our salvation. But the difficult and humble conditions of both Jesus' birth and death mean that our muted Blue Christmas service tonight is not out of place with either event.
The story of Jesus as the Christ is filled with as much hope, peace, joy and love as good news ever can be. And yet it is good news that comes in a minor key. And that is part of the reason why I feel drawn to the church and to Jesus. The God who is revealed in Jesus is a God who is Love, but is also a God who suffers, a God who dies, and a God who shows us a route to new life out of this suffering and death. And I detect a strong note of reality in this.
We are confident that our sacred values of hope, peace, joy, and love are the most important ones. But given the pain of individual life and the problems in society, the news that new life comes through pain suffering can be seen in two different ways, I believe.
One option is to be depressed by this supposed "good news." Perhaps it might lead us to abandon Christianity for a sunnier religion; or drive us away from religion altogether.
The other option is to be cheered by this good news. If new life can be found through pain and death -- including the death of Jesus on the cross -- then I can see hope for all of us. Life in Christ does not mean that we will never experience pain. It does not mean that we will never experience loss. What it does mean is that we can live each moment -- whether ones of pain or joy, of loss or gain -- in and with the God who comes to us as a baby and the God who dies in pain with us on the cross.
The night may seem long and dark, but God is with us. Life may seem painful given that the more we love, the more we have to lose. But God is with us. And that is why we offer endless thanks and praise.
The God revealed to us in Jesus is not an easy God, but He is a reliable one. Against the backdrop of darkness, He is a God of hope, peace, joy and, above all, love.
And so on this long, dark, and sacred night, we say again, "Come, Lord Jesus, Come."