As we welcomed a new living addition to our household in recent months, we had to get reacquainted to the reality of newborn bodies needing fed seemingly all the time, including during the latest of evening hours. So, in order to keep myself awake, I would virtually check in with my former preaching professor, who now serves as a pastor of a congregation in Virginia. As with many pandemic-lived-through communities of faith, they broadcast and record their Sunday morning worships not just for members, but for curious onlookers like myself, who wouldn’t mind a helping of hope and all-around Good News in the middle of the night.
So, when he had to deal with that seemingly not-so-hopeful, not-so-overflowing Good News passage of Mark 13:24-37 for that First Sunday of Advent, I was slightly curious how he would pull it off, since he remains one of the best preachers I have ever heard. How exactly was he going to proclaim a Gospel-anything with darkening suns and falling stars and the very heavens shaking to their core? Well, there’s a reason why I could turn to him around 3AM with not so heightened of awareness levels, to say the least, and still be captivated.
Obviously, I cannot do him full poetic justice here, but he had this refrain sprinkled throughout his sermon: “the absolute worst is always happening,” meaning such fear and trembling is not limited for some far-off in the distance end times scenario. “The absolute worst is always happening…to someone.” Except, where the Good News comes in is that our Emmaneul is just as present in those unpleasant happenings as in the joyous ones. So, yes, the absolute worst may always be happening to someone, somewhere, but there is absolutely no level of unpleasantness that will keep our Lord from finding a way to show up.
Granted, that may be easy for us in the church to say as far too many are going through what they believe are their “absolute worst” moments, including during this what is meant to be the “happiest time of the year.” And even if they are not going through it right now, they may have at some point during this 2023: job loss, medical news, family death, and so on. It all tends to emerge at the forefront during this holiday season. With that in mind, many faith communities put together a Blue Christmas service during this week, especially with tomorrow being the Winter Solstice (the longest night of the year).
It’s our wider church’s way of saying that no, we cannot ensure that everyone has adequate work or housing as well as perfect health. We will certainly try to do our part in finding the needed resources to help as many children of God as possible, but sometimes our most pivotal ministry is giving people the time and space to allow their brutally honest thoughts and feelings to be brought to the forefront with God. To provide the time and space for them to hopefully feel the Emmanuel reality of God-with-us during the happiest and joyous times, and the “absolute worst” as well.
So, for those who may need it, we offer these words from our siblings in Christ of the United Methodist Church, and we pray God’s blessings of hope and grace and new life not just for the happiest ones, but for all of us!
Almighty God, we thank you for your constant love and for the blessings of this day.
We know that even when we cannot see or feel you, still you are there.
Help us to remember you and to listen for your voice in the words of family, friends, and strangers.
Kindle our hearts and awaken hope, that we may know you as you reveal yourself in the world and in our lives.
Let the light of your holy Spirit shine like these candles in the darkness,
lighting the way for all who feel despairing, lost, or forgotten,
and grant that it may come to dwell so deeply in our hearts
that when we leave this place it may shine on, for us and for those we meet along the way. Amen.
Another day will come, O God.
I know not what it may bring forth, but make me ready, God, for whatever it may be.
If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.
If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.
If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.
And if I am to do nothing, help me do it gallantly.
Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of thy Peace. Amen.
O God, support us all the day long in this troubled life,
until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over, and our work is done.
Then Lord, in thy mercy, grant us safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last. Amen.
(excerpt from “Blue Christmas: A Service of Reflection for the Longest Night,” Discipleship Ministries, United Methodist Church)