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Church offers ‘Blue Christmas’ service

As a child, the longest night always seemed to be Christmas Eve. My sisters and I could not wait for Christmas morning and presents. The story of the birth of Jesus was lost in the excitement.
More and more, in our “buy now, pay later” culture, we often overlook the reason for Christmas and the true Christmas story.
In 1974, a delightful little book was published called “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” by Barbara Robinson. A desperate Sunday School director offered donuts to any child who would show up to practice for the yearly Christmas pageant. Several “unchurched” kids from the wrong side of town turned up for the free donuts, and to everyone’s horror, stayed on to take part in the pageant.
This funny little book turned out to be rather thought provoking. These rough kids had never heard the Christmas story before and were horrified by the events the church members had heard all their lives. They wondered if the Wise Men were spies, and thought King Herod the worst man in the world. Their shocking, intensely negative response to a favorite story rocked the church, which had become immune to this saccharine, hallowed story. Many had never stopped to realize the tragedy, fear and suffering that was necessary and integral to the first Christmas. The story left the kids enraged, shocked, and befuddled that such things could happen to a baby born to save the world. For many, the book opened eyes to the extremes that God went to send His son into our world.
A jostling, uncomfortable ride for Mary; no room at the guest house; far away from the comforts of family and home; lying in a dirty stable on straw; a mean king who tried to trick the magi and murdered children — these events incensed the kids and should make us stop and pause to consider that pain, suffering, and unfairness are part of the Christmas story. It was a painful, confusing time for Mary and Joseph. They were alone and afraid, with strangers reporting visions of frightening celestial beings, and magi tracking them down with gifts that were more appropriate for a funeral.
Just as the Christmas story can be seen from both perspectives, so the celebrating of today has left many people feeling loneliness, fear, sadness and grief. For those who suffer during this holiday time, it is good news to know that we are in the company of Mary and Joseph, kings and shepherds, and especially a tiny baby lying on a straw bed, all of whom were uncomfortable, frightened, and confused. The child who was born was no stranger to pain, and from the first, those most intimately involved with Him were no strangers to pain either.
This season of joy is also a season to celebrate quietly; reflecting on the miracle of new life in the midst of apparent chaos. It might be a quieter Christmas than usual for you. Be sure to rest, reflect, and take time for yourself. A “Blue Christmas’ or “Longest Night” service, held at Calvary Episcopal Church on South Lee Street in Americus, can be a helpful way to re-think Christmas.
This service is for all those that have lost loved ones; suffered a job loss or loss of income; struggle with addiction; are estranged from family and friends; or simply feel lonely and sad during this holiday season. The service will be held at 10 a.m. Monday, Dec. 25. Everyone in the community is invited to attend.

Fr. Walter Hobgood is rector, Calvary Episcopal Church, Americus.