Blue Christmas

An Advent Candlelight Service for All Who Grieve

Faith communities are increasingly attentive to the needs of people who are “blue” during the holiday season. They are creating sacred space and hospitable settings to include those who face various kinds of losses, illnesses, grief, depression, or conditions that make their grief poignant. Those difficult emotions can connect us more deeply to the reason for Christ’s incarnation. “Blue” services are reflective, accepting the reality of where people are emotionally. They offer a message of hope and an assurance of God’s presence with us in the midst of our darkness. While every year there are individuals who struggle with a mix of emotions during the Christmas season, 2020 has not left any of us untouched. This year, as we experience both individual and communal grief and lament, it may be more important than ever to acknowledge that fact in worship. While such a service can happen at any time during Advent, for those in the Northern Hemisphere it is often held on December 21 and referred to as “The Longest Night Service.”

This particular service, planned for Grace Community Christian Reformed Church in Oak Lawn, Illinois, works whenever you hold it. Its basic form is based on an order developed and used at The Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew, Honolulu, Hawaii. Grace Community has used it (with some minor changes) for several years. We are grateful that the Cathedral has given permission for it to be shared with Reformed Worship’s readers. This particular service was developed in coordination with Erik Kamp, who was an intern at Grace Community. Please acknowledge both communities if you choose to use this service.

You may want to give name tags or index cards to those who attend and have them write the name of the person (including oneself) or situation they are thinking of or mourning during this season. Something about naming it and writing it down can help people begin the healing process or open them up to healing.

Prelude
Solo/Duet: “Breath of Heaven” Grant

Welcome

[Consider adapting the opening paragraph to make it more contextual.]

We gather this evening during this Christmas season in a spirit of somber remembrance. While the rest of the world seems to be celebrating the joyous occasion, we come to the manger realizing that the world is as cold as stone, that feelings of loneliness and loss overwhelm, and that our hearts cry out: “Help us be strong; help us.” I invite each of you this evening not to hide or suppress those feelings, but to embrace them, realizing that they bring you much closer to the real Christmas story.

This evening we remember the true story: A helpless babe born into a world that was struggling, a world that was questioning where God was, a world crying out, “Why?” A helpless babe born in a cold, stone room without the joyous welcome we often picture. A helpless babe born into a family that was poor, tired, and frightened. A helpless babe who would change all this for the world.

We Gather in God’s Presence

Opening Sentences
LORD, you are the God who saves me;
      day and night I cry out to you.
May my prayer come before you;
      turn your ear to my cry.

I am overwhelmed with troubles,
      and my life draws near to death.
I am counted among those who go down to the pit;
      I am like one without strength.
—Psalm 88:1–4

[Light the Christ Candle.]

The people walking in darkness
      have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
      a light has dawned. . . .

For to us a child is born,
      to us a son is given,
      and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
      Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
      there will be no end.
—Isaiah 9:2, 6–7

Song
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” Brooks, LUYH 88, GtG 121, SSS 80

God’s Greeting/Mutual Greetings

We Remember and Seek Comfort: A Litany of Remembrance

Persons Who Have Been Loved and Lost

Lighting of the First Candle
We light the first Advent candle and remember those persons who have been loved and lost. We pause to remember their names, their faces, their voices. We give thanks for the memory that binds them to us in this season.

Lord, surround us all with your eternal love.

All Sing
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, LUYH 61 (v. 1), GtG 88, SSS 73

[Silence]

Words of Comfort
Psalm 103:13–17

Other Occasions of Loss

Lighting of the Second Candle
We light a second candle mindful of the many sources of loss and grief: the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, or the loss of health. As we gather up all our pain, we offer it to you, O God, asking that into our open hands you will place the gift of peace.

Hold us, help us, heal us, O God.

All Sing
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, LUYH 61 (v. 6), GtG 88, SSS 73

[Silence]

Words of Comfort
Psalm 139:11–12

Acknowledging the Pain

Lighting of the Third Candle
We light a third candle to acknowledge the pain of our loss in this Christmas season. We pause to remember the past weeks, months and, for some of us, years of difficult times. In the poignancy of memories, we feel all the grief, the sadness, the hurts, and the fears, and we entrust them to Christ, the suffering servant who is victorious over death itself.

We remember that the dawn overcomes the darkness.

All Sing
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, LUYH 61 (v. 5), GtG 88, SSS 73

[Silence]

Words of Comfort
Psalm 34:19

Gratitude for Those Who’ve Journeyed with Us

Lighting of the Fourth Candle
We light a fourth candle to remember all who have shared in our sorrow. We thank you, Lord, for their compassion, for their presence with us in times when our hurt went deeper than words could express. We remember that you, Lord, sent your Holy Spirit to sympathize with our weakness and to carry our sorrows.

We thank you for those who held us and pointed to your light.

All Sing
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” Psalteriolum Cantionum Catholicarum, LUYH 61 (v. 7), GtG 88, SSS 73

[Silence]

Words of Comfort
Matthew 5:4, 7

Prayer of Comfort

We Hear God’s Word

Scripture
John 1:1–5

Message
“Christmas in the Darkness and Storm”

We Respond in Hope

Prayer of Hope
God of compassion, we come again to you as Christmas nears.

We grieve over what might have been.

A death or loss or struggle tarnishes our experience of this season. We feel cut off from joy, lost from what we once felt, wondering if the light will indeed come. We find ourselves adrift, alone, lost. Lord, help us find our way.

Loving God, hear our prayer,
and in your merciful love, answer.

The Advent season reminds us of what used to be but is no more. Memories of what was and fears of what may be keep us from the joy of today. All around are the sounds of celebration, but joy eludes us. Be near us this night.

Loving God, hear our prayer,
and in your merciful love, answer.

In this season of Advent waiting, we bring you those sorrows and longings too deep for words. Hear the groans of our hearts, and tend us with your comfort and grace.

Loving God, hear our prayer,
and in your merciful love, answer.

In the silence, we bring you our own words of need, our own words of hope.

[Silence]

In this dark night, let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives rest in you. ln the quietness of this night, may your peace enfold us, and those dear to us, and all who have no peace. Keep us in the truth that the night is nearly over; the day is almost here. We look expectantly to a new day, to new joys.

Loving God, hear our prayer,
and in your merciful love, answer. Amen.

Words of Hope
May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
      even as we put our hope in you.
Those who hope in the LORD
      will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
      they will run and not grow weary,
      they will walk and not be faint.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
—Psalm 33:22; Isaiah 40:31; Romans 15:13

Lighting of Candles and Song of Peace
“Silent Night! Holy Night!” Mohr, LUYH 85, GtG 122, SSS 83

As we sing, all who wish are invited forward to prayerfully light a candle in memory, in honor, in gratitude, in hope, or in love, inviting the love of Christ to dispel our darkness.

Passing of the Peace

Benediction
1 Peter 5:10–11

Michael Kooy is the pastor of Grace Community Christian Reformed Church in Oak Lawn, Illinois.

Diane Ritzema serves as worship coordinator at Grace Community Christian Reformed Church in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Her work includes thematic service planning, leading praise teams, and coordinating volunteers.