BLUE CHRISTMAS - FR. TONY MOON - ST. AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA
Fr. Tony Moon, Saint Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Sunday, December 19, 2021, 5:00 p.m.
This service of Blue Christmas has not been around in churches for too many years… seems like I only heard about Blue Christmas services within the past ten years or so. Of course, the name, Blue Christmas, goes back to the old Elvis Presley song. Separated from his love and feeling down and blue, Elvis’ smooth voice tells just how blue he is! His feeling blue penetrates everything! He’s even seeing blue snowflakes, having blue memories, and even having a blue heartache! This guy’s got it bad, as he’s having a blue, blue, blue, blue Christmas. (Incidentally, Elvis’ recording was most popular, but it was recorded by many others, from Ernest Tubb to the Beach Boys.)
Trivia aside, Blue Christmas captures a tone for those of us who are marching to a different drummer this time of year. While our culture presses us into a frenzy of shopping and parties and cooking and decorating and attending the kid’s Christmas programs… some of us honestly just aren’t there. Due to some life circumstance, we just aren’t in a place to be wound up and set loose in a dozen different frantic directions so we can attack Christmas! We honestly can’t be enticed to engage “the joy of the season.”
Intellectually, we may know there is plenty to be joyous about… especially in God’s gift of a Son, a Redeemer of the World, who taught us to love and care for others and for ourselves, and then gave himself for us, a sacrifice for all. And before he departed from this world, this Redeemer gave us a gift when Jesus invites us Christ followers to become his body on this earth, to carry on Jesus’ own work of compassion, forgiveness and love. Wonderful to think about—us having this esteemed place as part of the Body of Christ, part of this “Christ project” carrying on the work of Jesus today, carrying the message of Jesus forward to the next generations. While we can get it into our heads, our hearts still may be lagging behind. Our hearts, which are so tender and affected by the world, may at this time be turned inward, shielding themselves from the bright Christmas lights, the sparkling glitter, and the loud Christmas music of the malls. Maybe, just maybe our hearts cannot keep up with our heads; maybe our hearts need some extra space, some extra care and tending at this time. And by your being here this evening, I think you are being honest enough with yourself to say that’s true. And I embrace and appreciate that honesty.
In today’s Gospel (celebrating the Feast of St. Thomas this evening, and normally observed next Tuesday), we meet another honest character. Jesus is speaking to his followers (us included), and he tells these followers not to be troubled. Jesus asks them to believe in God and believe in himself. Jesus tells them that he is going on ahead of us to prepare a place for us—a sign of Jesus’ nurture, care and love for us. Jesus tells his disciples “I’ll go and you will follow.” But this honest guy Thomas couldn’t make sense of what Jesus was saying. Thomas raised the question, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” To this question, Jesus did not chide or reject Thomas. Instead, Jesus answered Thomas directly: “I am the way.”
Jesus treated Thomas with dignity and respect at another encounter we read about in the Gospels when, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus appears to his disciples—minus Thomas who was away. Upon Thomas’ return, the apostles are excited to tell Thomas about their amazing visit with the risen Jesus. Thomas remarks that he will not believe them until he puts his fingers into Jesus’ wounds. Soon, Jesus returns and invites Thomas, doubting Thomas, to do just that. At this, Thomas believes. He falls to his knees and exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” This is said to be the first time one of the disciples asserted the divinity of Jesus.
I think Thomas’ disbelief and his grounded honesty were treasured by Jesus. I believe the same is true with you, as well. I think Jesus loves you just the way you are right now. We don’t have to pretend that everything is alright with Jesus. Jesus loves us for who we are; for our struggles and heartache; for the real pain that this human existence can cause our tender hearts. I believe this is true because Jesus lived this existence. In Jesus’ human experience, without a doubt, Jesus felt many of the same pains and troubles we have—and many more than we glimpse in the brief records of our sacred texts. Jesus experienced more than weeping at the death of his friend Lazarus; more than the pain stirred by his compassion for the suffering he witnessed around him daily in those who were ill, lost and marginalized; more than the sorrow he felt watching his own beloved mother while he hung dying on a cross. It is good for us to remember that Jesus is with us in solidarity as we encounter all the struggles and pains of our lives.
It is also good to recall that in Jesus there is hope. That we can turn to Jesus—and to his followers in this Body of Christ—and be honest about ourselves with Jesus and his followers. We can talk with Jesus and his followers and be patient, knowing that we’ll be heard. We can also be patient and listen for a response of support, encouragement or guidance. Simply remembering without any doubt, that God loves us just as we are can help ease the pain. Connecting with Jesus and others daily is probably best…because just as with any relationship, if we connect only once in a while, the relationship probably won’t amount to much. Steady connection is what bears good fruit in relationships. As we learn to trust, we can be assured that Jesus is working on our behalf, even without our knowledge and even amidst life’s toughest circumstances.
For all of its “force,” I think it’s OK to take this season one day at a time, or even one hour at a time if needed. I think it’s OK to be who you are, where you are. I don’t think you have to change yourself for the season, but maybe let the season adapt to you. What can Christmas be for me this year? Maybe it’s different from other years. Maybe you have a different focus this year, stripping the season down to its basic elements: What does Christmas most mean to me this year… maybe simply recognizing that a person who was such a fierce lover at every turn was born into the world 2000 years ago and because of his unyielding and unconditional love is still having an effect on the world today. And then we can bring this meaning of Christmas to a more personal level, and ask ourselves, “How will I let the love, compassion and forgiveness of Jesus guide my own thoughts and actions today?”
Taking Christmas to its basics reminds me of a story of a young Catholic man who went away to seminary many years ago. He recalled that during his first year there, he was required to stay on campus at Christmas. Part of his formation was to separate himself from his family for that first year. And, because everything was taken care of there, he had no money for gifts for family, friends or professors. In many ways, that Christmas was like none he’d experienced before. Without the parties, decorating and distractions of Christmas, this young seminarian was afforded time to focus on a truer meaning of Christmas than he’d ever experienced before. His focus was not only on the anniversary of a birth of our Savior; his focus more deeply penetrated how he was birthing Christ into his life and into his world. Looking back to his novice year in seminary, the old priest recalled that he’d never again had the luxury of such a clear experience of Christmas since.
Tonight, let us cast our cares on to a powerful God who knows our human condition inside-out, and whose arms are open wide to accept us, to greet and comfort us; imagine this God of compassion taking on our cares and loving us in return.
4 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.