The Blue Christmas Service was canceled due to bad weather.  Please worship with these materials provided by Reverend Jean Doane.

Bulletin:

                   
Christmas can be a painful time for some. It may be the first Christmas without a loved family member who has recently died; it may be a time that has always been difficult. The constant refrains on radio and television, in shopping malls and churches, about the happiness of the season, about getting together with family and friends, reminds many people of what they have lost. The anguish of the death of a love one can make us feel alone in the midst of celebrating and joy. We need the space and time to acknowledge our sadness; we need to know that we are not alone. We need encouragement to live the days ahead of us. 
 
Gathering Music 
 
Greeting          Rev. David Randall-Bodman    *Call to Worship         Rev. Jean Doane 
 
Leader:  Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give   you rest.” And so we invite each other to this time of peaceful worship. This    afternoon we come looking for the Christ child. People:  We come, bringing our hurts, our worries and our fears. Leader:  We come seeking relief from pain, anxiety, loneliness and despair. With the psalmist   of the Scriptures we say,  People:  “O Lord, you are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living, Give heed to my   cry, for I am low.” All:   We come now to rest in God. 
 
Opening Prayer             God of Mercy, hear our prayer in this Advent Season for ourselves and our families who  hold painful memories of loss, grief, separation or crippling stress. We ask for strength for  today, courage for tomorrow and peace for the past. We ask these things in the name of  the Christ who shares our life in joy and sorrow, death and new birth, despair and   promises. Amen. 
 
*Hymn (insert)   The Candle of Hope   Lighting of the Advent Candles—The Rev. Nancy C. Towney 
 
Candlelighting  
 
Leader:  We light four candles this afternoon in remembrance of our loved ones. We light    these candles for our own needs. We light one for our grief, one for courage, and   one for memories and one for our love. 
 
Reader 1: This candle represents our Grief. We own the pain of losing loved ones, of dreams   that go unfulfilled, or hopes that evaporate into despair. (Reader lights a candle…   a brief silence follows) 
 
Reader 2:  This candle represents our courage. It symbolizes the courage to confront our    sorrow, to comfort each other, to share our feelings honestly and openly with each    other, and to dare to hope in the midst of pain. (Reader lights a candle...a brief    silence follows) 
Reader 3:  This candle represents our memories. For the times we laughed together, cried    together, were angry at each other or overjoyed with each other. We light this    candle for the memories of caring and joy we shared together. (Reader lights a   candle...silence) 
 
Reader 4:  This candle represents our love. The love we have given, and the love we have    received. The love that has gone unacknowledged and unfelt, and the love    that has been shared in times of joy and sorrow. (Reader lights a candle…    silence) 
 
Leader:  You are invited to come forward to light one of the votive candles which    represents your burdens, griefs, sorrows, all those things which make Christmas a   “blue” time for you. You may speak the name or the event if you wish to do so   as you light the candle. Then return to your seat. 
 
Leader:  In the center of this circle we light the Christ candle, remembering that Jesus   Christ is always in the center of our lives. He hears our cries, he knows our hearts   and, in the midst of all our thoughts and emotions, he offers us hope and    healing. (Leader lights the Christ candle) 
 
Let us pray.  Comforting God, wrap us in your presence in this time of remembrance. With these  candles, help us find your light, a light that will guide us day-by-day, step-by-step, as  we try to live life fully and wholly. We cherish the special ways in which our loved ones  have touched us. We thank you for the gift their lives have been to us. Now comfort  and encourage us. Amen. 
 
Scripture Reading    Psalm 42; Luke 1: 47-55 
 
Solo     Hallelujah         Leonard Cohen                     Jane Zilk—Soprano 
 
Homily  (see below)             Broken Halleluahs                   Rev. Jean Doane 
 
Wait for the Lord (Taize) 
 
*Response to the Word  
 
Leader:  The God of strength moves within us;  People:  the God of courage hears our distress.  Leader :  The God of hope reveals wholeness to us;  People:  the God of healing touches us when we are broken.  Leader :  When the pain overwhelms us, when the burden is too heavy,  People:  we turn to our God, who is sustaining and redeeming.  Leader : When there is loneliness, when there is isolation,  People:  we turn to our God, who is loving and present.  Leader : For God created us, redeemed us and sustains us, and we are not alone.  All:   Lead us in your ways, O God, and bring us your healing touch. Amen.Invitation to Receive an Anointing with Oil and Blessing       Rev David Randall-Bodman                                 
 
Thanksgiving Over the Oil 
 
Let us pray.  O God, the giver of health and salvation, we give thanks to you for the gift of oil. As your  holy apostles anointed many who were sick of body and spirit, so pour out your Holy Spirit  on us and on this gift, that those who in faith and repentance receive this anointing may  be made whole; through jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
 
Time of Anointing 
 
Those who wish to be anointed with Oil are invited to come forward. You may Speak a brief  prayer request before your anointing. The sign of the cross will then be made on your forehead with oil and a blessing will be offered for you. You may respond with “Amen.” After anointing you are invited to go to the Communion table to dip your fingers into the salt water symbolizing the cleansing power of God’s tears for your grief. Then return to your seat for a time of silent prayer. 
 
Prayer After Anointing  Almighty God, we pray that our brothers and sisters may be comforted in their suffering  and made whole. When they feel afraid, give them courage; when they feel afflicted,   afford them patience; when they are lost, offer them hope; when they are alone, move us  to their side. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen. 
 
*Hymn #101    Comfort, Comfort O My People 
 
*Benediction 
 
Postlude  
 
You are invited to remain in the sanctuary as long as you want following the service. If you wish to speak privately to someone as you leave, Called to Care Team members will be available. Additional support beyond this afternoon is available upon request.. 
 
 
 
Homily:

Psalm 42—My soul is cast down within me…

Luke 1:46-55—Mary’s Song

Theme:  When our souls are cast down, our praise of God may be imperfect at best, yet God hears us and consoles us with God’s own presence, Emanuel, God-with-us.

“Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen

 “Wait for the Lord” (Taize)

“Comfort, Comfort, O My People”

It’s that time of year again:

  • The time to be merry and bright
  • The time to get together and celebrate
  • The time to lavish gifts on friends and family

But what if….

  • You can’t be merry or bright?
  • You lack the energy or the motivation to celebrate?
  • You have no money for gifts?
  • You have no loving family or friends?

What then?

Many of us find ourselves in this awkward “what-if” space during the holidays—that long stretch from Thanksgiving until January 2—a stretch that may seem never-ending for those of us who are grieving.  We may be grieving the loss of someone close to us, a loved one or close friend who has died this year, or last year, or many years ago.  Grieve knows no time table, and grief does not take holidays.  In fact, grief is more intense during times when everyone else is celebrating.  Grieving brings about deep sadness and a desire to withdraw.  Our isolation and loneliness increase.  This puts us out of step with our friends and co-workers and with the culture around us that seems to demand holiday cheer. 

 

This particular year, national and world events have piled grief upon grief for many people.  Never-ending wars in the Middle East continue to bring death and destruction, anxiety and fear, not only to combatants, but, increasingly, to civilian populations.  How often this year have we heard that hospitals have been bombed in Syria and elsewhere?  Refugees clog the roads and venture out to sea, leaving everything behind and risking their lives to escape the terror at home.

Closer to home, greed, racism, sexism, homophobia, and degradation of the environment seem to be flourishing again with new champions in places of power.  My generation thought we had overcome these evils, or at least made substantial progress against them.  Now we find repugnant attitudes and actions on the loose again in the work place, in school yards, in rural areas, and on city streets.  Churches, mosques, and synagogues as well as schools and night clubs, normally safe havens, have become targets for hate speech and vandalism and scenes of mass shootings.  How can we possibly celebrate Christmas?

The answer came to me this year from an unlikely place—the songs of Leonard Cohen.  Cohen was a popular Canadian singer-songwriter whose songs tend to deal with the darker and grittier side of life.  Cohen’s lyrics are sexually suggestive and, some would say, irreverent.  Cohen died November 7 this year, just one day before the U.S. presidential election.  The juxtaposition of the two events was uncanny, and resulted in Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” receiving quite a bit of air time. 

Cohen’s “Hallelujah” spoke to me in a profound way this year.  I hope that as you listened to Jane sing verses from “Hallelujah” this afternoon, you received the same message that I hear in it.  I believe that ultimately, Cohen’s message is one of hope.  He says that in spite of the deep disappointments, the tragedies, the fear, and the darkness that surround us in our personal lives and in the world, we can and must continue to praise God.  The word “hallelujah” means “praise God.”  In Cohen’s song, the hallelujahs are imperfect:  They are cold, and they are broken, but they are still hallelujahs
 

I read much the same message in Psalm 42.  The psalmist says:

  • My tears have been my food day and night
  • My soul is cast down within me
  • I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me

 

And yet, the psalmist also says,

  • Why are you cast down, O my soul?
  • Hope in God
  • For I shall praise God again
  • God is my help and my God

 

My guess is that the psalmist was not yet truly rejoicing in his inner most soul as he wrote these last words.  Rather, I imagine him writing them with tears flowing down his cheeks, splashing onto the papyrus and smearing the ink. 

He was hoping against hope:  giving expression to the longing of his soul for the presence of God to comfort and protect him and lead him back to praise and thanksgiving.  The hope expressed here—and the hope expressed in Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”— is easy, everything-is-going-to-be-jolly hope.  It is the difficult, hard fought and hard won, gritty kind of hope that we hang on to in real life.  That is why these two pieces, Psalm 42 and Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” are so powerful.  When we are grieving, we do not want saccharin sweet words of false hope.  We want real world hope that lets us utter words of praise to God even when we are at our lowest point, in the very valley of the shadow of death.

 

I want to conclude these thoughts by sharing the lyrics of another Leonard Cohen song, “Anthem.”  In “Anthem,” Cohen speaks about war and corruption and imperfection, and like the writer of Psalm 42, he is able to strike a note of hope.  Cohen dares to assert that we are all broken, we all have scars and cracks, and yet we can and we must celebrate.  Why?  Because it is through the cracks that the light gets in.

Anthem by Leonard Cohen

The birds they sang at the break of day

Start again I heard them say

Don't dwell on what has passed away or what is yet to be.

Ah the wars they will be fought again

The holy dove; She will be caught again

bought and sold and bought again

the dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That's how the light gets in. 

That's how the light gets in.

That's how the light gets in.

As Christians, we would say that the light shining through the cracks is the love of God, the Christ-light, shining through our broken places and bringing us comfort and strength and even joy.  I pray that you will take to heart the words of the ancient psalmist and the words of a modern day prophet, Leonard Cohen; that you will glimpse the light of Christ shining through your broken places.  I pray that you may take heart, have courage, and find that you can still experience joy, in spite of all that is broken.  For God, Emmanuel, is with us.  Hallelujah! Praise God!


 "Wait for the Lord" (Taize)
 
 
 
This afternoon’s service was adapted from worship materials created by Revs. Sue Farley and Brent Ross, from San Carlos United Methodist Church and Mental Health Ministries.net; and the Rev. Nancy C. Townley, www.ministrymatters.com. 


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