23 December 2014 by thaliakr
What is a Blue Christmas Service?
Guest writer Melanie recently reflected on the process of putting together a Blue Christmas service at Frenchs Forest Baptist Church, where she is a pastor:
The concept of a Blue Christmas Service was new for me this year. The idea behind the services is to provide a quiet, contemplative service as an alternative to the more traditional gatherings as a way to care for those who are sad or struggling whilst those around them are caught up in celebrating.
In the northern hemisphere they are also known as Longest Night Services and both tend to be held around 21–22 December.
We have a number of people in our congregation who are struggling with different kinds of pain and loss at the moment and I thought a service of this kind might appeal to them. Not only that, but many people in our local community have said in passing that they are ‘not feeling very Christmassy’ this year.
Services like this provide an opportunity for people to hear not about the baby in the manger, who can be dismissed as irrelevant, but about the God of love who comes to us in the midst of the mess and pain we know in our own everyday lives and the lives of those around us.
If this appeals to you, for whatever reason, this post is here to offer an online version of Melanie’s Blue Christmas Service, with music, art, prayers, reading and space to do your own processing. Use it however suits you best.
Your own preparation for the service (optional)
Candles are lit at several different points in the service – you can either imagine the candle-lighting and other concrete actions throughout the service, or prepare five candles to light yourself wherever you are, arranged like an Advent wreath, with one central candle, and four others in a circle around it. You will also be invited to light a smaller candle from the central candle at the end of the service.
If you are mourning someone special, or have suffered other losses, and would like to bring that grief to your experience of this service, you may like to place an empty chair somewhere near you while you participate.
The service includes the sharing of communion. Whether you are alone through this service, or in the company of others, you may like to prepare communion elements – some form of bread and wine or other drink – to share symbolically with others gathered around the world.
At the bottom of this post are two alternative services you might like to make use of.
An Australian Blue Christmas service
Music playing before service
Or choose your own favourite contemplative music.
The service starts with sitting still, listening to music.
Tonight we welcome you to our Blue Christmas service, a service that has been put together especially for those of us who are not feeling particularly merry and bright right now.
This is somewhere to come if, despite all the decorations, the cards, the music playing in the shops, the concerts and parties and the advertisers who want you to believe that you can buy wonderful, you don’t really feel very much like celebrating. Somewhere to come if the idea that a Merry Little Christmas is all you need for your troubles to be miles away has a decidedly hollow ring to it.
We hope that you’ll find this a safe place to be transparent with yourself and with God, a safe place to admit that maybe you’re not ok at the moment, that maybe what you’re really feeling is sad, discouraged, or even angry. A place for you to be real with your struggles and your questions.
Those of us feeling a little blue at this time of year can feel edged out and forgotten as everyone else seems caught up in the mad frenzy of their own preparations and celebrations. We hope that as you look around you tonight, and as you think about the Christmas message, you’ll find comfort and hope in knowing that you are not alone.
Tonight there’ll be a variety of music to listen to but we won’t sing, there’ll be a Bible reading, a short message, and the opportunity to respond to God’s word by taking communion. We’ll light some candles and spend time in prayer and silent reflection. After the service, please stay for some supper if you can, and if it would help to have someone to talk to or pray with, but you don’t know who you could ask, please let me know.
Will you join me as we commit this time together to God?
God of mercy and love, we gather here today as hurting people, bringing our pain, our sorrow and our confusion to this safe space tonight. Would you meet us in our darkness, and give us freedom to struggle together as we seek your presence. We ask for strength for today, courage for tomorrow and peace for the past.
Light the central candle
In the beginning was the Word. The Word was close beside God, and the Word was God. In the beginning, he was close beside God. All things came into existence through him; not one thing that exists came into existence without him. Life was in him and this life was the light of the human race. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
The empty chair
This empty chair represents those who won’t be home for Christmas.
Perhaps a relationship has ended, perhaps the people we love will be far away, perhaps sickness or death has changed how things used to be…
Light the first outer candle
We light this first candle to remember those we have loved and lost.
We pause to remember their names, their faces, their voices and the memories of them that we hold in our hearts.
We thank God for them and ask for his comfort, and when we are feeling overcome with sadness, we ask for the peace that is greater than we can ever understand.
Lord hear our prayer.
Light the second candle
The empty chair also represents the pain and sadness that can come from other events that enter our lives, uninvited and unwanted – leaving us reeling in pain and shock, unable to shake the feeling that it wasn’t supposed to be like that
So we light this candle to represent other losses that we find ourselves faced with.
The loss of health,
the loss of confidence or security,
plans that did not work out,
or hopes that ended in despair.
We pause now for you to tell the God who longs to bind up those who are broken-hearted, about some of the losses that you are feeling at this time.
Lord hear our prayer.
Light the third candle
This candle represents our courage: the courage to face our sadness, to share our feelings with others, our doubts and fears, our anger, frustration or depression, and to dare to hope in the depths of our pain.
We pause now for you to tell the God who longs to take you by the hand and says to you, do not fear, I will help you, about some areas where you need help in finding courage.
Lord hear our prayer.
Light the fourth candle
We light this fourth candle to remember those who have supported us in our pain.
We pause to remember the prayers, the words of comfort and support, the acts of kindness from family and friends and those who stood with us in our time of need.
We thank you God for sending others to remind us that we are never alone.
And we thank you for sending your son, Jesus.
Focus on the central candle
Standing here in the centre of the candles that represent some of life’s joy and pain, this central candle represents Jesus who has come to be Immanuel, God with us, in the midst of it all.
Jesus who was born as a helpless baby – and who hears our cries, and understands how weak and helpless we can feel.
Jesus the good shepherd, who knows our hearts and offers us healing and hope in the midst of our suffering. Who came to help us understand just how much God loves us. And who lived and died to restore our relationship with our heavenly father.
Jesus who will reign as King over God’s new creation, where there will be no more sickness or death or crying or pain for all eternity. And who has given us his Holy Spirit to help, comfort and guide us as we seek to follow him here on earth and wait for his glorious return.
Music to listen to
We’re going to play some music now – an old carol which expresses the longing the Israelites felt as they waited for God to send the deliverer he had promised. Whilst the music is playing can I invite you just to sit and rest in God’s presence.
Oh God, be with us in our darkness. Make your face shine upon us and give us peace.
We pray for your Holy Spirit to be at work within us, all of us who are gathered here tonight, may your Holy Spirit comfort us, may it sustain us, may it remind us of your constant love for us.
We trust this time of listening to you and ask you to open our hearts and our minds to whatever it is that we need to hear from you tonight.
Message/Sermon [not included in this post]
Music and the lighting of individual candles
In a moment we are going to play a song which expresses this resolve to reach out and take hold of God’s promise to be there with us in the midst of life’s storms.
Whilst the music is playing you’re invited, if you’d like to do so, to come up and take a candle to represent whatever pain and loss you’re experiencing most strongly tonight, and to light it from the candle in the centre that represents Jesus, as a way of saying thank you to him for being the light in our darkness and then to plant the candle down in the sand in this tray as you ask for God’s help to keep on trusting him in the middle of whatever’s going on around you.
When Jesus gathered his friends into the upper room and shared with them the news that he would be leaving them, they must have been anxious and fearful for what would become of them.
In the midst of their fear and their hurt and their disappointment, Jesus served them a meal, and offered them himself.
Jesus took bread and broke it and gave it to his friends and said, take this and eat, this is my body that I break for you – do this and remember me.
Then Jesus took the cup and gave a blessing over it and gave it to his friends and said, do this all of you – this is my blood which I pour out for you and for many so that you might be forgiven and reconciled back to the father.
In the midst of their fear, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their uncertainty, Jesus gave them the one thing that could overcome all those – his presence.
Tonight we eat and drink and remember and give thanks that Christ’s presence gives us peace in the midst of all our uncertainty.
As the next piece of music plays, if you love the Lord and you would like to take communion, please come up to the table as you are ready and eat and drink there.
When you return to your seat we invite you to sit quietly and rest in God’s presence before we conclude our service.
In a moment we’ll say the Twenty-Third Psalm together and finish with a prayer. Then we’ll play one final piece of music and after that it will be quiet in here. Please feel free to stay longer if you’d like to.
There’s some supper next door, and we hope when you’re ready you’ll come and have something to eat and drink with us.
If you feel it would help to talk to someone or would like someone to pray with you and you don’t know who you could ask please come and talk to me.
As you leave you’ll notice a basket of blue ornaments. If you’d like to take one to hang on your tree to remind you that God is with you in the midst of whatever you’re going through, then please do so.
Psalm 23 has brought comfort to so many people over the years, let’s say it together now – if you know a different version to the one on the screen, just say the one that means the most to you.
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows, he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honour to his name.
Even when I walk through the darkest valley I will not be afraid for you are close beside me. You rod and your staff protect and comfort me.
You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honour me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.
Comforting God, as we leave this place would you continue to wrap us in your presence. Be with us in our struggles, and when we get lost in the darkness, shine your light and help us find our way back to you.
Other Blue Christmas services online
As an alternative, Acton United Methodist Church in Texas filmed their Blue Christmas Service in its entirety and you could participate by just watching this:
And there is a full, not-too-lengthy liturgy of an Anglican Blue Christmas service here.
If you are hurting this Christmas, I hope that some of these resources can help bring peace.
If you are new to Sacraparental, feel free to follow us on Facebook (for daily extras), sign up for email updates (the box at the top right), follow me on Pinterest (the Advent and Christmas boards may be particularly relevant), and/or on Twitter.
There are plenty of other resources on this site for Christmas, for those who are grieving, and on other related topics. Use the search box at the top right, or browse through the posts to see what might interest you.
Lastly, if you find this service helpful, either for yourself, or to prepare a service for others, please leave a comment to encourage Melanie who prepared it.