I just heard the bells ring at the Russian Orthodox church down the block. It's Christmas.
My Advent season has been spent mostly with folks who wait not with eager expectation of Christmas, but with a certain amount of dread, because of the grief and loneliness that are so much more palpable during the holidays.
One woman said she tried to come up with a project to do in the last week of December so she didn't have to think about Christmas. Several others told me they didn't celebrate. It was just a time of year to be endured.
Last year this caught me off guard. I was accustomed to approaching Christmas with nostalgic, warm, fuzzy feelings. I didn't know what to do with my friends in the DTES who struggled to find reason for hope. I didn't know what to do with my own grief, as it was the first time in my life I'd missed the Christmas Eve service at Emmanuel Baptist in Saskatoon. Rain poured down on our poorly-attended church service in the DTES, and I longed for the familiar.
This year, I let myself enter into the grief a little earlier. I participated in several 'Blue Christmas' services that my colleague Al led in the DTES, where we provided space for less-than-merry emotions people were experiencing. People could light candles for loved ones they missed, or for other pain they carried, and we remembered together that the Creator held our stories, and would not leave us.
Tonight, we did our church Christmas Eve service. We were blessed with nicer weather, and we partnered with another community, so there were more people, and a real tone of celebration. I was grateful. We closed our service with a song we've been singing at church throughout Advent: "Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King". We inserted our own longings... "no more dying there... No more violence there... No more loneliness... We are going to see the King!". We remembered together that just as Christ came as a child to inaugurate his kingdom, he will come again and wipe away every tear, and bring total shalom. Nothing will be missing or broken. No one will be missing or broken.
I want to share one more song with you. At the end of each of the Blue Christmas services, Al played this song, by Bruce Cockburn, called 'Joy will find a way'. It's a song about death, but it has also become a Christmas song for me. This is the hope I cling to for myself, for my friends, and for any of you who may carry grief or disappointment or illness or family brokenness this Christmas. Whether we are blessed to taste this now, or whether we must continue to wait, know this... Longing will become love, night will turn to day, everything changes, joy will find a way.
Soon and very soon.
May this dangerous, inextinguishable hope break through the darkness for you, especially today.