Blue Christmas – blurring the sacred and secular

Last week we began our Advent Journey reflecting on the lineage of Jesus as written in the gospel of Matthew. We examined the radical statement made by the inclusiveness of the ancestry and the pronouncement of Jesus as the prophetic fulfillment of the coming Messiah.

We established that more than a historical analysis of a challenge to an established system of power, the ancestry of Jesus is one that speaks to us today, welcoming every one of us into a new narrative that continues to reclaim systems of oppression and conquest. And, we imagined our own creative lineage in response to our vision for The Land; a community challenging stagnant practices of worship and resurrecting dormant patterns of discipleship. A lineage leading to a modern-day community committed to the continuation of rediscovering what it means to follow Jesus through an intentional blurring between the sacred and the secular.

Blue Christmas

Beyond an argument of semantics, a battle in which ownership of right linguistics pushes one in or out of belonging in community, the expression of faithfulness at The Land invites each of us into a humble relearning of what it means to be human in the context of a universe where we are not the authors of the story we participate in – participants of the story, yes, but not the owners, authors or even main characters of that story.

This morning we gather in the spirit of what has become known as a Blue Christmas. This concept of a Blue Christmas service is a recognition of the “blues” experience many people have concurrent with the culture’s Christmas festivities. The move to plan and enact these services is largely generated out of local efforts to engage people in prayer and reflection that is honest and true to their inner struggles and yearnings. Christmas celebrations in the church and the culture at large focus on a hope realized, while the Blue Christmas rites focus on naming what is still painful and shrouded in emotional darkness and uncertainty.

Fresh off the warm enthusiasm of the invitation into Jesus’ divine genealogy, we enter the second week of Advent balancing the grief accompanied with the intentional act of decentralizing ourselves from a story imagined once as only our own. A grief arising from the reality that our role as followers not founders has some unconformable consequences for the perfectionist tendencies of the modern-day disciples. Losing both copyrights and editorial privileges we find ourselves surrendering to the limitations of whatever page life has placed us on in a story of conflicting characters and paradoxical plot lines. Like the moving staircases in a Harry Potter movie, we stand waiting to see where we will end up next in a scene of moving parts beyond our control.

It’s fitting to find ourselves doing this spiritual work in the context of the story of the birth of Jesus; a reminder that Mary had no strategic plan nor smart goals when she stood before the angel of the Lord and said yes to the mission placed within her. I laugh thinking about how this scenario would play out in the 21st century. We, people of the post-enlightenment, have evolved as experts in scientific skepticism and, consequentially, inherited a chronic addiction to the illusion of mastery and control undermining the best intentions to live with faithlessness.

I imagine there would have been many questions for the angel that evening that Mary never thought to ask. What hospital would she give birth in and how much would the baby weigh and would the baby have allergies and should she co-sleep or let him cry it out or put him in private school or pay for piano lessons or feed him organic fruits only or raise him on a high protein diet. Would she have insurance coverage, and should she be a stay at home mom or would it be better for him to see her working. We would want to know what the end goal was and what resources were available to achieve it and what risks existed that might prevent it. We would want to be set up for success and properly prepared and appropriately educated. None of which we would associate with Mary or Joseph or the Shepherds or the Inn Keeper or the Wise Men. Each character inadequately equipped; all lacking a full understanding of the script their individual lines lay in.

In his poem, The Real Work, Wendell Berry writes, “It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go we have come to our real journey.”

Today we find ourselves recipients of a lineage broken open to all people with the birth of Emmanuel into the world and in response we are invited to form creative, imaginative, fluid expressions of this openness in our social context. The real work is a yes to participating in a plan beyond our authorship and thus a surrender to our compulsive planning. The real work is to hold lightly this gift of new life with the understanding that it is not ours to control, to craft. Blue Christmas is at its core an opportunity to stand still and to grieve the loss of the predictable and embark on a journey of a floating faithfulness in an ongoing yes to the birth of new life.

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