Monday, December 25, 2006

Blue Christmas Service - December 21st

The Longest Night Service

Call To Worship:
One: Joy in the air, breathless anticipation.
All: and we feel our loss keenly, our sense of aloneness, intensely.
One: Celebration in the air, there is partying, renewal of friendship.
All: and we feel our loss keenly, our avoidance of a “Happy Holidays!” response is clear.
One: Family reunions eagerly anticipated,
All: and we feel our loss keenly, the gap in our
family circle, acutely.
Hymn # 6: A Candle is Burning
Naming the Losses We Have Suffered:
One: We name in our losses before God,
the loss of a partner in life,
the loss of a well-loved family member,
the loss of a friend,
the loss of a loved one,
the loss of a pet,
the loss of health,
the loss of a cherished dream,
the loss of self-confidence.
We name our own particular losses in silence before God: moments of memory – the good ones and the hard ones, and reflection on the feelings that have been ours in loss.
We pause and remember and reflect……
(a time of silence)
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 8: 21 – 22
Prayer of Approach:
One: We believe you care, O God.
You have been with us in the suffering up to this moment; you will not leave us now.
All: In the initial shock of loss,
you were with us.
In those moments when we feel blazing anger, you are with us.
In those moments when we feel nothing at all, you are with us.
In those days and weeks when we long for life to feel good again, you are with us.
And today, when we remember our loss and contrast our sadness with the prevailing Christmas joy, today in this service, you are with us.
One: We dare to hope; we dare to believe;
All: your love will never leave us;
no, your love will never leave us.
Scripture Reading: Isaiah 9: 2 – 5
Meditation: Rev. Shawn Ankenmann
The words – the people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light … are very easy words to speak …
At this time of year, we encounter them over and over in the life and work of the Church. They are fundamental to our understanding of Christmas and the Christmas Season.
They are even words that have permeated our understandings of the Christmas event. A dark night – the heavenly light of angels … the dark streets of Bethlehem – the soft glow of the stable door … the vast inky darkness of the sky – the glorious light of the start leading the wise men … the dark heart of Herod – the loving heart of light of the baby …
The contrasts between light and dark continue … the Christmas story is one of lightness – the coming of the light – the arrival of the love of God in the form of a tiny, fragile and helpless baby … This time of year we honour that happening with our Christmas lights, our candles, our trees – on the darkest and longest of nights, we gather here – tonight – to light our candles and to say – “The darkness will not triumph over us. We will walk in the light – we will celebrate the new dawn …”

But there are times when the darkness seems too thick – too dark. There are times when it seems like the light simply will not come …
The past year in many respects in this community has been such a time … Our fire that destroyed the beloved sanctuary … the loss of beloved community and family members … the struggles that have rippled through our community … In too many ways, the darkness has seeped into our community, our church and even our lives.
So, the words of Isaiah are bold words.
They are good words.
But most of all, they are words of action. The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light … those who have lived in a land of deep darkness – on them (on us – on you and I) a light has shined … It is too easy in the darkness to lose sight of where we are going, or where we’ve been. It is too easy to simply sit and wallow in the darkness and feel sorry for ourselves and to forget that the light will come …
That was Isaiah’s point … he was speaking to a battered and be-leaguered people. They had known war and the suffering it brings. They had been crushed under the heels of occupying military. They had been burdened by poverty and famine. They knew, not in some theoretical way, but in a very real way, what suffering really was. They were people who could say – “ Been there, done that – want to see the tee-shirt??”
So Isaiah, stood before them – a broken, demoralized and distraught people and he began with a whisper … we know the words – we hear the words – over and over: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light … those who live in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined …”
He started with that whisper and the people listened – “huh? They say – that’s me … I’m living in a dark and troubled time … I’m walking in the darkness … he’s talking about me …”
The Isaiah names crises they’ve been living and enduring … he names the bar of oppression – the rod of servitude … he names the trampling boots of occupying armies … the shedding of blood … the fire … the hurt … the death … Then, just as his message reaches its crescendo – he returns to a whisper:
“For unto us a child has been born – a son has been given – authority rests on his shoulders and he shall be named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace …”
The question we must face – the challenge we must live as people who have known, experienced and endured the darkness – is not WILL the light come? But rather – when will we know the light has come …
There is an ancient Jewish tale about a Rabbi asking his students to tell him when you know it is the moment of dawn when morning prayers are to be offered.

The first students said - It is dawn when the sun breaks over the horizon. The rabbi shook his head. Another student said - it is dawn when you can see your hand at arms length. Again the rabbi shook his head. Another student said - it is dawn when the sky is blue in the west, Again the rabbi shook his head. Another student said - it is dawn when you can tell a horse from a donkey in the field. Again the rabbi shook his head. Another student said - It is dawn when you can tell an olive tree from a fig tree. Then the other students offered their best guesses. For each guess the Rabbi shook his head sadly …
Then at last once all the students had their chance to answer the Rabbi spoke and said - It is dawn when you can look a stranger in the face and see your sister or your brother.
The dawn we all long for will come … that is a promise given to us through our faith … But it is not a dawn that will suddenly break upon us, it is a dawn that comes slowly … It comes when we see in the faces of those around us our sisters and our brothers. … It comes when we see in the faces around us a family – a community where we are cared for and cared about without condition and without question …
If this past year has taught me nothing else, it has taught me that – “we are NOT alone …” In the United Church our Faith Creed begins with the words – “we are NOT alone …”
The living out of those words for me in this community began in the pre-dawn hours of February 12th, when we stood and watched our beloved building burn to the ground … In clusters up and down Main St we found community – we found family … and in the days and weeks and months since, emails, cards, letters, donations, prayers and phone calls from across Canada, have reminded us over and over and over – that we are not alone. In our grief – we are not alone.
In our sadness – we are NOT alone.
In our anger – we are not alone.
In our recovery and healing – we are not alone.
At no point in the journey of life are we alone …
That dark night as the flames lit up the pre-dawn sky - we were reminded in a very real way – that even when the darkness comes – the light will drive it back … When the darkness closes in around us we need to remember and believe that the light will come in the dawn … the dawn wherein we will see in the faces around us, our sisters and our brothers … sisters and brothers who will care for, but also care about us …
In the darkness, it is easy to forget - THAT (that we are all family – we are all children of God and we are NOT alone) … but because of the words of the prophets … because of a tiny child who offered the world a whisper of hope … because of a faith that will endure through even the darkest of nights … we can journey forward one precious step at a time, knowing that God is with us … – each step of the journey … and tonight – the journey continues … and tomorrow the dawn will come … thanks be to God …
Music provided by Louise MacDonald:
One Candle, One Flame
Scripture Reading: Psalm 121
Meditation: Rev. Boyd Drake
Hymn # 44: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
Candle Lighting:
Each person is invited to light a candle and say:
“I light this candle for (name/s optional), a person who was a light to my life.”
All: In your loss we are with you.
In your loss God is with you.
One: You guide our way, O God, when the darkness surrounds us.
All: You give us your Word of hope in our fear and aloneness.
One: You guide our way, O God, when life feels dull and joyless.
All: You give us family and friends with whom to share our feelings of loss.
One: You guide our way, O God, when we long for someone no longer with us.
All: You give us memories which will be ours to relive forever.
One: You guide our way, O God, when we feel our confidence slipping.
All: You give us fresh awareness of our talents and our ability to use them for good.
One: You guide our way, O God, when we think of the losses of others.
All: You give us the courage to stand beside the suffering and listen to their story.
One: You guide our way, O God, when your Spirit seems gone from us.
All: You give us the blessing of Jesus crucified and risen, and the pledge of your presence in time
and beyond time. Amen.
(The Lord’s Prayer )
Hymn # 67: Silent Night
One: God goes with you as you feel your loss:
In your vivid remembering, God sustains.
In the gap that still remains, God is there.
In the support of family and friends, God’s love is felt.
In your moments of doubt, God is faithfully present.
God will never leave you.
All: God will never leave us. Amen.
Blessing ...

Acknowledgements and Thank You’s …

Thanks to Nathan, Jennifer, Dean and Rick of Minnedosa Funeral Services for providing for the time of refreshments and fellowship to follow this service.

Thanks too, to the women who once again prepared the refreshments for us.

Thanks to Louise MacDonald for sharing her talents tonight.

And special thanks to Eleanor Taylor for offering her musical talent and leadership for tonight’s service.

As you go from this place tonight,
and in the coming days …
May You Find The
Blessings of this Holy Season,
and in spite of the darkness,
May you continue to find
The Abundant Light of
God’s Love!!

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