Wednesday 14 December 2016

Blue Christmas and Aleppo

For the last five years, about a week before Christmas, I have conducted a Blue Christmas Service in my congregations. Almost every year, I question my sanity. Why do I put myself under pressure by adding another two events to my calendar? But I go ahead anyway, as a dim, glimmer of a memory reminds me this is important. And here is why.

Christmas is a time of "Joy! Joy! Joy!" If you don't get into the Christmas spirit you are frowned upon and, perhaps, guilted into wrapping some tinsel around your front door handle. But the reality is, not everyone is full of joy at Christmas time. Some have lost loved ones during the year, and the season only highlights the emptiness and the loss. Some have struggled financially, and the barrage of advertising only serves as a reminder of the "haves" and the "have nots". Some are living in pain or with illness and the isolation is even more real as families and friends gather together. Some are far away from loved ones, by choice or not. Broken relationships and the ease of travel often leave empty chairs at Christmas dinners. And all of this is before we start to look at the state of our world.

Our Blue Christmas service doesn't fix any of this, but it acknowledges the reality of life. It gives people an opportunity to stop, reflect, cry if they need to and know that it is ok to have feelings other than joy at Christmas time. We remember that the first Christmas story was not as beautiful as we tend to make it. It was a time of great turmoil and unease. We romanticise the stable, but it was probably an extremely unpleasant place to bring a child into the world. At Christmas we remember the coming of Jesus into this world, a man who stood beside the oppressed, the outcasts and the poor.

Our Blue Christmas services never attract crowds, but there is always someone; the woman who had battled breast cancer all year, the man who lost his mother, the woman battling depression and lingering ghosts from the past. Sometimes an unknown face will sneak in the back, shed many tears and leave quietly and anonymously. I may never know that person's need or how their Christmas will be. It's not so much about the words said, the songs listened to or the candles lit. It is more about a safe space created for people to be.

And so, what was going through my heart during this year's services? I thought of a dearly loved congregation member who died during the year. I brought to mind the families of those I have conducted funerals for in 2016. I thought of friends who have lost a young child this year. I wonder about people for whom we have provided food and shelter this year.

But the depth of my heart's cry was for Aleppo. I cannot comprehend what it is like to run for your life. I cannot begin to imagine the horror of seeing loved ones killed in front of me. I don't understand the despair, the nightmare it must be to feel forgotten by much of the world. I feel completely helpless. The enormity of the trauma and destruction is overwhelming. The easiest response is often denial. But I cannot ignore the pictures, the stories and the messages.

At the Blue Christmas service, we invite people to take a blue bauble or a star to hang on their tree or give to someone as a gift. I took a star for Aleppo. As the story goes, a bright star shone in that part of the world 2000 years ago. It was a guiding light, bringing hope to many. My Aleppo star is a constant prayer of hope for a people who have nothing left this Christmas time.

1 comment:

  1. Cathie

    What a beautiful and moving reflection in your Blue Christmas address. How important it is to move beyond the traditional happy Christmas and acknowledge the sadness and brokenness of so many, especially Aleppo...I read recently of a woman who, instead of saying ' first world problem' in response to a trifling concern, simply said 'Aleppo.' It helps keep things in perspective, doesn't it. I hope you and your family enjoy a peaceful time after your busy Christmas Day.

    Margaret Thomas (St Aidans Claremont.)