Formations 12.27.2020: Blue Christmas

Psalm 116; Acts 7:54–8:4

It’s always good to remember that the Christmas season isn’t always joyful for some of us. Those folks ringing the bells and collecting donations outside your favorite grocery store? Let’s not forget that they’re doing this to help people who are looking at a bleak, cold Christmas without the most basic physical necessities that you and I take for granted.

Others are observing Christmas in the shadow of death. My church has a yearly Blue Christmas service meant to give comfort to those who have lost loved ones and must now face the holidays without them. Maybe your church does something similar.

Even in the New Testament, the Christmas story is not without dark corners. The wise men leave, but King Herod sends his men to Bethlehem to slaughter the town’s baby boys (Matt 2), a horrific crime commemorated on December 28 as the Feast of the Holy Innocents. And when Mary and Joseph present forty-day-old Jesus in the temple, Simeon testifies to the child’s destiny, telling Mary that “a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35).

Church tradition has heightened this darkness even further—which ought to tell us that Christianity can handle grief, sorrow, fear, and doubt. It doesn’t have to be constant bliss on a bed of roses. That’s good, because real life doesn’t work like that.

Stephen is remembered as the church’s first martyr. His willingness to die for the cause of Christ earned him a place of honor on the liturgical calendar on the day after Christmas, the “Feast of Stephen” as the carol “Good King Wenceslas” calls it.

Stephen’s death at the hands of the religious authorities. closely mirrors the death of Jesus himself. Jesus in Luke 23 and Stephen in Acts 8 both pray for their executioners and both commit their spirit to God with their final breath. In Psalm 116, the psalmist bears witness to God’s salvation. He is content in the face of death because God has dealt bountifully with him.

All of these things—the Salvation Army kettles, the Blue Christmas services, the New Testament passages, and the traditions of the church reflected in the liturgical calendar—remind us that there is hope for God’s people even in the shadow of death.

Discussion

• How can Christians celebrate Christmas while remembering the many who struggle at this time of year?
• What does your church offer to those who greet this holiday season with sorrow?
• What lessons does the death of Stephen have for believers?
• How can we face death, whether physical or metaphorical, with courage like his?
• How can the celebration of Christmas shape our understanding of these sources of suffering as we move through and beyond the season?

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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