When the joy of Advent seems to mock the darkness in our hearts, Blue Christmas is a reminder that the light of God still illuminates the path. Dianne Jensen talks to Rev David MacGregor.
Like every congregation, the people at Wellers Hill–Tarragindi Uniting Church, Brisbane have experienced their share of grief and struggle during the year. Some will take the opportunity at the beginning of Christmas week to pause with family and friends for reflection at the Blue Christmas “Service of the longest night” offered by the church.
Congregational minister and well-known songwriter Rev David MacGregor has revived the church tradition, adapting a Methodist (US) resource to the Australian context.
“There is joviality and joy at Christmas—as there should be—but it’s very hard to enter into that when there’s emptiness inside. If you have lost a loved one, it hurts more,” says David.
“There are and always will be times that we find ourselves having to deal with tough stuff … I believe that we’re denying God ultimately and denying who we are unless we can express that, and I think it’s helpful to do that in some sort of liturgical worship ritual.”
The short service is structured around the lighting of the four blue Advent candles—symbolising grief, courage, memories and love—followed by the Christ candle. Participants are invited to light tea candles in remembrance of others or in acknowledgement of their own struggles.
“In any service of lament—and the psalmists bear this out—when someone pours his or her heart out, there’s always a place where the hope that God offers is also known and claimed and sought,” says David.
“The gospel is the light of Christ and the darkness has never put it out. The Advent candle provides a sense of God’s presence, the light of Christ with us, even if it does seem like a flickering light in the corner of a dark room.”
For more information contact Rev David MacGregor at dmacgreg1 at optusnet dot com dot au
Considering introducing a Blue Christmas service? David MacGregor offers these tips:
- Don’t be maudlin. This service is not in Holy Week, leading up to Good Friday. Christmas is a time when the light of Christ comes into the world.
- Don’t try and do too much.
- Be circumspect in the use of music. If people are dealing with grief and loss, they might not want to say or sing anything.
- Provide an opportunity for people to express their loss in some sort of kinaesthetic way such as lighting candles or placing stones.