Blue Christmas, Pink Advent

Published 3 months ago • 4 min read

Blue Christmas, Pink Advent

Is it wrong to rejoice when the world is dark?

This week is the longest night of the year.

Thursday, December 21st at 10:27pm is the winter solstice, when the Earth tilts the farthest away from the sun. I recently found out it's also called the hibernal solstice, which I love. The invitation to fill up with sustenance and curl up somewhere warm and cozy.

But it's not always easy. I am one of those people who really struggles when the weather turns dark and cold (hence my love of snow – a little joy falling from the sky…).

It has become common for churches to have "Blue Christmas" services on the longest night. A time to make space for those who are suffering loss or grieving. A way to honor the fact that not everyone feels holiday cheer and this can be lonely. A recognition that we're not alone in our pain.

There's nothing wrong with this, and it's obvious that these services fill a need for many. And yet, here we are on the third Sunday of Advent, doing that very same thing.

Today is often called Gaudete Sunday - from the Latin ‘joy’ - and marked by a pink candle if using colored candles on the Advent wreath. In the spirit of joy, I like to say that the candle is pink because God really wanted a girl!

If you look at all our readings this week, though, they are speaking to people who are suffering.

In Isaiah (61:1-4, 8-11), the beautiful poetry of the prophet speaks to the Israelites who are scattered and war-torn, and presents a beautiful view of what it will look like when God delivers them.

1 Thessalonians (5:16-24) - like our reading from second Peter last week (3:8-15) - focuses on the very earliest Christians. These were some of the very first letters written after Jesus’ ascension into heaven and promise that he would return before some of them saw death.

Now they are dying and Jesus hasn't returned, or they are sick and suffering and they wonder where Jesus is. Some are losing hope, some are losing faith, and this letter says: ‘pray without ceasing’; ‘rejoice always’ to people who are wondering if Jesus is ever coming back.

To people who started to become cynical and think that God doesn't have anything to do with our lives.

And in John’s Gospel today (1:6-8, 19-28), people rush to John the Baptist in a time of great cultural upheaval, in a time where they are waiting for the great king of Israel, for the Messiah to appear, hoping that he is the one they're waiting for.

All three of these readings speak to people who are personally suffering, and living in a time when there is warfare, sickness, death all around, Sound familiar?

And they are saying: God is redeeming the world. You will find comfort here. Rejoice.

I think there's some tension here: this Pink Sunday in the darkest week of Blue Christmas.

There is a sense in our world today that it is somehow disrespectful to feel or proclaim joy when so many are suffering. Or there's a sense of isolation –with all the festivities of the season, people don't feel seen or heard if they're having a hard time, and it makes it harder.

Is it wrong to rejoice when the world is dark?

Here's the heart of Christmas –and Christian – faith: joy is fundamental.

Not the forced cheer that papers over real problems. Not the denial that says we can't talk about things that are difficult, or even acknowledge them. Not the frivolity of having no cares in the world when so much of the world is experiencing violence and pain.

The deep down fundamental joy that no amount of suffering can ever take away. Can never get in the way of light coming into the world, and into our lives.

There's a real danger, when things are not going well, that we can end up worshiping our suffering. When our pain becomes the most important thing, and we feel like if we give it up, we will give up some important connection to ourselves and those we love. And the danger of this, no matter how difficult it is, is that we lose hope.

Is that we come to a place where we can so clearly see that we can't make things better by ourselves.

We all know this. We have all been at a place where we don't know what to say to our loved ones when they have gotten the terrible diagnosis or the terrible news.

We don't know what to do when these things happen to us, when day by day we find that we are in a dark place. There is a limit to how much we can comfort one another.

At a certain point we say it's an endless cycle of suffering and we don't know what to do or how to stop it. We don't know how to make it better as much as we long to.

This is the place where we decide either give in to the dark, or to be open to the smallest light in the midst of it.

To be open to faith and hope and the promises of God that Jesus is still being born into this world.

In the midst of a Blue Christmas, this is our pink Advent. Light in the world. The darkness will not overcome it.

This is the source of our joy, and our comfort when we are in sorrow,

Even though Advent is a penitential season, we still say ‘Alleluia’.

Unlike Lent, when the ‘A’ word is banished for a season, in Advent we still shout for joy in the darkness.

We’re still rejoicing, even in the dark. It’s not denial. It's not disrespectful. It’s the gift of hope.

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Fr. Cathie Caimano

Episcopal clergy, Ministry Innovator, eternal optimist, Free Range Priest.

19136 Juanita Lane, Cornelius, NC 28031
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I provide practical advice and innovative ideas for ministry so you can create the Future of Church without having to figure everything out all by yourself. Reimagine congregational, entrepreneurial, small church, part-time or denominational ministry. Share more Good News. Get more ministry JOY.

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