On any given Sunday, as God’s people trickle into the sanctuary, they lug along the baggage of their lives. Some pieces are light and nimble, others are heavy and damaged. With his simple directness, Ken Medema describes it this way, “to the gathering we are bringing love and laughter, grief and pain...” (see Psalter Hymnal #259).
Every Sunday is magnified by the celebration, emotion, and story of Christmas. Though people are dressed in their festive best, look closely. The slightly curved lips and muttered Christmas greetings don't disguise the well of tears barely held back.
Why does Christmas expose so much pain?
For some, it's the first season without someone (or the first season after a dire diagnosis). Maybe it's just the day itself. My husband's mom has been gone for 19 years and the grief is no longer sharp. But her birthday was Christmas Day and it's hard to ignore her absence.
For many, it’s the Norman Rockwell-like expectations of family on this holiday that expose their own broken relationships: recently divorced, fractured friendships, estranged children, etc.
For others, it has to do with all the cute little kids up front, the focus on the Baby...and the empty cradle in their own nursery.
It is good and right that we sing “Gloria!” and “Joy to the World” for there is no greater hope and joy than the incomprehensible truth that God came to dwell with us. And those who ache from the bruises of life know that truth more deeply than most. They have had to believe it when their lives have come crashing down. Yet, they may not be able to sing it.
So we will sing the truth for them; with them. But before we do that—before we ask them to muster the strength to join the community in worship despite their pain—perhaps we can join them in an honest prayer for hope in the midst of pain.
So step away from your sermon, set aside the PowerPoint, bulletin, and musical arrangements. Think of those who hurt this year. The ones you know about and the ones who haven’t said a word.
Need some words for your prayer? Here are tender phrases from Sharlande Sledge. May the God of all comfort and peace bless the worship of those who sing and those who weep in your congregation this week.
God of heaven and earth,
in this drama of Advent and Christmas,
our lines do not follow the expected script.
Some of us are hurting from the inside out
as much as others are celebrating their joy.
Amid talk about fulfillment,
loss looms large.
Remind us that you come to us
as the Incarnate Christ
whether we have mustered the strength to light a candle
or decided to sit in darkness.
You reach out to us
whether we are singing jubilantly
or weeping uncontrollably.
We wait for you to come to us
where we are,
as we are--
out-of-sync with the season’s songs.
Punch a hole in the darkness
that swallows us
to let in a glimmer of hope.
Sometimes a pinprick of light is all we need.