A bit of what I’ll preach Sunday morning….
All the Christmas lights and holiday stuff seem so out of synch with this weekend now. I read in The New York Times that a woman who owns a Christmas tree farm in Newtown, CT wasn’t planning to open yesterday because it just didn’t feel right, but she changed her mind and did because someone called and wanted to cut down a tree.
Friday’s shooting put a damper on many Advent festivities. I believe that things will pick up again in the next few days. However, Christmas will still probably feel a little subdued for many people because it would feel unseemly to show too much joy and happiness while others suffer.
Even if we didn’t have Friday’s shooting, though, suffering and sadness are a part of the season, too. It’s a reality for many people that in the midst of everyone else’s happiness they are sad, a bit blue. Some churches at this time of year have Longest Night also called Blue Christmas services to assure people who don’t feel the joy and happiness of the season that it’s OK and that their feelings are normal given the events currently churning in their lives. Furthermore, these services assure them that they are not alone. They’ll see others who may have lost loved ones to death sometime during the year (even during the Advent season) or got laid off from their job or got a diagnosis of a terminal illness or got divorced. These services are powerfully comforting. I’ve been to them and I’ve led them. In some sense the service we had on Friday night had a touch of that feeling.
The newspaper yesterday described those of us at Zion on Friday as a motley bunch. Although not terribly complimentary, it was mostly true. Some clergy were in the congregation. A lot of youth were there because the service came in the middle of the Advent party for the combined youth groups of Zion and the Methodist church. Several people who found out and not connected to either church were there, too.
The service felt good. It didn’t matter that we were not really a church in the sense that we were members of the same congregation. We were gathered in spirit – in love or more accurately, by love. We could simply be who we were in the moment – emotionally confused. The prayer I wrote for the service opened with these words, “Holy and loving God, we come this evening filled with our emotions twisted into knots.”
Basically, that’s the way church should be. There’s a place for us here regardless of how we feel. It also doesn’t matter whether it’s Advent or not. If we took a poll, we’d probably find that on any given Sunday we’re a real mix of emotions, sometimes even entertaining conflicting simultaneous emotions within ourselves. Furthermore, church doesn’t necessarily mean that we must all walk out feeling elated and joyful, rather we need to walk out feeling affirmed for who we are in that moment.
Ideally, it’s here in the church where people should have that feeling of peace for being accepted and loved just as they are. The late William Sloane Coffin wrote, “Church is where all hearts are one so that nothing else has to be one. Church is where there’s such a climate of acceptance that each of us can be his or her unique self. Church is where we learn to be free, strong, and mature by sharing with one another our continued bondage, weakness, and immaturity. Church is where we so love one another that it becomes bearable to live as solitaries.” The church is where we should feel shalom. And by our experiencing shalom, we can take that feeling beyond these walls to share it with the world.
 William Sloane Coffin. Credo. Westminster John Knox Press:Louisville 2004 Page 149