Tag Archives: peace

Blue Christmas: Lament and Hope

We held a Blue Christmas service at my church last night. This is a tradition I have found helpful over the last few years, attending a couple of similar services, although this was the first time I have been involved in leading one. Blue Christmas is about naming the fact that for many people, the joy, celebration, and expectation of this time of year is often tinged with sadness. It is an opportunity to take time to sit in the darkness, to bring before God our sadnesses and sorrows, to recognise that there are often no easy answers or quick fixes, but to seek hope in the midst of wherever we find ourselves.

I’ve learned from the psalmists that we need time and space to be honest and vulnerable before God and his people. The lament psalms give us permission to be brutally honest; to name our sadness, doubt, confusion, or even anger in prayer.

We met last night, on what for most of the world is the longest night of the year, the night of greatest darkness, which comes just a few days before we remember the dawning of hope in the birth of Jesus. Of course, living in the southern hemisphere, it is not physically for us the longest night but one of the shortest, but that doesn’t mean many of us don’t feel like we are experiencing dark or long nights, and so we joined with sisters and brothers throughout history and around the world seeking the Light of the world in the middle of the darkness.

For many centuries, Christians have been lighting candles to represent giving their prayers and themselves to God. This isn’t necessarily part of my own church tradition, but we built our time together around the lighting of candles: the central (white) Christ candle, representing Jesus, the Light of the world, surrounded by four blue candles representing the different circumstances some of us find ourselves in.

There are many different ways of doing this, but we linked the four candles to the Advent themes of hope, peace, joy, and love.

The first candle represented those experiencing grief, who have lost someone they loved. We took time to remember them, expressing our aching hearts to God, and the way death makes us feel angry and cheated. We looked to Him to sit with us in our grief and make known His love. We then heard the words of Isaiah 40 speaking comfort.

The second candle represented those experiencing sickness, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, despair. We took time to acknowledge the burdens we carry, expressing our sadness and confusion to God, and the way suffering can make us feel alone and misunderstood. We looked to Him to sit with us in our pain and make known His joy. We then heard the words of Jeremiah 31 speaking restoration.

The third candle represented those experiencing broken relationships, conflict, tension, separation in their families. We took time to acknowledge the messiness we live in, expressing our longing for reconciliation, resolution, and forgiveness to God, and the way brokenness can make us feel incomplete. We looked to Him to sit with us in our discord and make known His peace. We then heard the words of Psalm 23 speaking tenderness.

The fourth candle represented those experiencing unmet expectations, shattered dreams, dashed hopes. We took time to acknowledge the deep longings and unanswered prayers, expressing our emptiness to God, and the way our lacks can make us feel troubled  and bitter. We looked to Him to sit with us in our yearning and make known His hope. We then heard the words of Lamentations 3 speaking solace.

We finished with perhaps my favourite Christmas carol, crying out for Jesus to come to us right where we are, in the middle of whatever darkness we are facing, just as He came and met the hopes and longings of His people on that first Christmas night:

Come Thou long expected Jesus

Born to set Thy people free

From our fears and sins release us

Let us find our rest in Thee

Israel’s strength and consolation

Hope of all the earth Thou art

Dear desire of every nation

Joy of every longing heart

Then each person lit a small individual candle to represent seeking the Light of Jesus in their own circumstances, and took home a blue Christmas decoration as a small reminder of what we had shared with God and His people that night. We gave people the opportunity to pray for and with one another, or just to sit in the silence and stillness for as long as they needed. I think we all found it helpful to have the space to do that, especially at this time of year.

I think that nearly all of us are carrying stories of brokenness, grief, doubt, sadness, and darkness. This is difficult at any time of year, but particularly so if we are surrounded by celebrations, busyness, and expectations, as we often are at Christmas. Maybe you can find a Blue Christmas service near you this year to share in a time of lament and hope with God’s people. Maybe you can create one for others. Or maybe you can just create your own space to name the sadnesses and darknesses you are carrying and allow yourself the freedom to sit in them for a time, expressing them to God and looking for Him to meet you in the middle of them.

 

Today would be a good day to walk the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem

I’ve realised that in my Monday travel reflections, I have actually been avoiding writing about some of my very favourite places to visit, because it is so hard to capture in a few words and images why I love them so much. One such place is Jerusalem. Definitely one of my favourite places in the world, I’ve been there on four different trips and I certainly plan to go back again in the future. In particular, today I’m thinking how lovely it would be to walk through the stone streets of the Old City. I won’t be able to capture all I love about it, but I’d like to at least make a start!

Mt Scopus view over Jerusalem

What do I love about the Old City streets?

I love the beautiful Jerusalem sandstones themselves. If stones could talk … what tales they could tell! And yet, silent as they are, they testify to the creativity and ingenuity of those who have come before, and to the inevitable passage of time.

Tower of David

I love the history. Imagining all those who have walked these streets before me. Allowing stories from ancient and more modern times come to life in the place where they actually happened.

Roman Cardo

I love the layers. The remnants of ruined houses from the Roman era frozen in time beneath the pavement.

Burnt House

Walking through the tunnel built by Hezekiah that lies beneath the foundations of the city itself.

Hezekiah's Tunnel

The archaeological excavations of sites where Jesus visited and spoke.
Pool of Bethesda

The jumble of streets with steps and twists and corners and hidden delights.

Old City street

Walking on the rooftops with their paradoxical mix of satellite dishes and ancient stones.

Rooftop Walk

I love the walls. Walking atop the city wall, circumnavigating the city just as David, Nehemiah and so many others have done before.

Walls

The ancient Israelite wall unearthed below the current street.

Hezekiah's Wall

The Western Wall. The remnants of the glorious Temple of Herod, a place for prayer and contemplation every day …

Western Wall

… and for an amazing celebration to welcome in the Sabbath evening.

Western Wall Sabbath

I love the markets. The hustle and bustle of shopkeepers selling artefacts and trinkets and the foods of a number of different cultures.

Old City shop

And getting up early enough to walk through the streets before the shops open and the tourists descend.

Old City shops opening

And I love seeing people’s faith in practice. Orthodox Jews mingling with Israeli soldiers, seeking ways to respect their shared traditions.

Crowds

Muslims gathered to study in the grounds of the Dome of the Rock.

Dome of the Rock study group

Christian pilgrims walking the Via Dolorosa, following the footsteps of the crucified Lord Jesus.

Via Dolorosa sign

What have I learned from walking the Old City streets?

There is an incredible richness of tradition and history and faith in this city. A sacred place for the three of the world’s major religions, it has been a place of incredible prayer and devotion.

Old City view

Of course it has also been a place of terrible conflict and strife. As an outsider, the complex combination of historical experiences and current politics makes it hard to see how this can ever truly be a city of peace.

Western Wall Israeli soldiers 1

And yet … in the Old City itself, people of different cultures, languages and faiths work and live side by side. Ordinary people seeking to live their lives, even as the currents of world politics and religion swirl around them. They remind me once again of the common humanity we all share.

Old City Market

While as a Christian I believe that the story of Jerusalem (along with all other stories) ultimately finds its fulfilment in Jesus, I acknowledge that I can learn so much from people of other faiths and practices. I remember my own “good Samaritan story” – when I twisted my ankle quite badly one Friday morning on the uneven steps outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Christian pilgrims swarmed past me oblivious, the Israeli police paid me no heed, and the first Muslim shopkeeper I asked for assistance was afraid of compromising his faith by touching me on his holy day. Another Muslim stall-holder came to my aid, providing me with a cane and helping me hobble up the street to where I was staying. He told me why the first man had been reluctant to help, but that he believed helping someone in need was more important than following religious rules. I shared with him that Jesus told a beautiful story that very much said the same thing.

Mosque and Israeli flags

Psalm 122 calls its readers to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Is that because this city more so than any other needs peace? Perhaps. But it is also because this city was for the psalmist the place where the living God had revealed His very presence. The prayer was that His true shalom might be known as it radiated out from Himself and His people. In Jesus, God has revealed Himself once and for all to all people everywhere. No longer do we need to go to Jerusalem to meet with God. But I still pray that this place, so dear to the heart of His people throughout the ages, would continue to be a place where the hope of peace and wholeness that He brings may be experienced more and more.

Psalm 122 sign in three languages