Rev Dr Giles Fraser - 17/12/15
Thought for the Day
Last Tuesday afternoon, a woman from the neighboring parish knocked on my door with a poster. I expected it to be publicity for their Carol Service. But no, this was different. “Blue Christmas” the poster proclaimed, “A reflective service for anyone finding Christmas hard”. The woman explained: “it’s for those who don’t want all the razzmatazz. We’ll be singing “in the bleak midwinter” and there won’t be any mince pies. What a brilliant idea, I thought.
Years ago, I remember taking a funeral at about this time of year. The father of this family had been found dead in the car park at work. His death was unexpected. And the family were stunned. At home, they sat amidst the detritus of pulled down paper chains and disassembled fairy lights. Outside the church a sign proclaimed “tis the season to be jolly” – which felt like an insult to those whose centre had fallen out of their world. “Smile vicar, it’s Christmas,” said a parishioner later that day. And I weakly complied, not wanting to explain why a celebration was the last thing in the world I was in the mood for. Since then I have always hated the compulsory upbeatness of this time of year, trying always to look out for those who feel alienated by the jolly man with a white beard and a funny red suit.
“The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light” says Isaiah, in one of the most familiar of the Christmas readings, “they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.” Now there’s a perfect text for a Blue Christmas. For the hope that Christians proclaim has very little in common with the flashy commercialized optimism of the shopping season - with people buying things they don’t want for people they don’t like with money they don’t have.
Of course, strictly speaking, it’s not Christmas until Christmas day. We are now in the season of Advent. And this is a time of not having, of waiting, of being without. It’s an uncomfortable simulation of what we lack – and an opportunity of spending quality time with our unmet needs and facing them, without flinching or filling up the hole with false substitutes.
Some years ago, when I had a bad bout of depression, I learnt from my therapist that it’s best not to run from the feeling of being lost. Better to stay with it, even – strange as it may sound – to make friends with it. For unless we remain in touch with what we need, we’ll never figure out from where our needs might be met.
Christmas hope is a light in the darkness. A light that can get lost amidst a million other lights. Like looking at the stars, it’s a light that needs darkness to see. Which is why Christmas has to begin as blue not as white. And it shines clearest to those who understand what it is to be lost, broken and forgotten.