Blue Christmas - "Unmasked by Grace" – John 1
John 1:1-5, 14, 16-18
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. all things came into being through him, and without him, not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God, the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.
I came across a poem by Shel Silverstein some time ago, and put it in the hopper as something that might be good to remember, or to use, or at least just to read again for my own edification and inspiration. It’s a poem called “Masks,” that takes on a whole different meaning for me than I originally thought it might, when I considered it again in the dim days of Advent and with the idea of Blue Christmas swimming around in my mind. Of course, Shel Silverstein, the author of The Giving Tree, Where the Sidewalk Ends, and A Light in the Attic writes poems and stories that are always better if you can see the drawings that go along with them. So… “Masks” is short and sweet, and looks like this:
At first blush, it’s enough if this poem is about being yourself in every way that God might have created you to be. Imagine all the ways we hide our true selves from one another and the world. We wear masks that change the color or style of our hair. We put on masks that cover up all variety of physical features we’d like to keep hidden. We use masks to cover up our insecurities and our dreams, even, if we think – or if someone has told us – that we shouldn’t feel that way or dream that big, or whatever. We use masks, sometimes to pretend we’re okay when we’re not and masks and some use masks to pretend they’re not okay when they’re really just fine. We use masks too much of the time to blend in, then, and to not stand out, to not be seen, in ways maybe we should be.
And Shel Silverstein reminds us that if we’re hiding something about ourselves that matters, and if we’re waiting for someone else who looks or acts or believes the way we do, there’s a very good chance that someone else is in hiding, just the same, and that we’ll never meet or know about each other if we keep ourselves “hid,” as the poem goes. And wouldn’t that be a shame?
But the poem got my attention in a different way this time around – again with Advent and Blue Christmas on the brain – because what the boy and girl were hiding behind their masks just happened to be “blue.” Again, “blue” as something to hide, could just as easily mean “afraid” or “addicted” or “recently diagnosed” or “gay” or “abused” or “bankrupt” or “stressed beyond our limit” or any host of things we’d just as soon keep hidden behind a mask from the rest of the world.
And maybe that’s why Shel Silverstein picked “blue” instead of “red” or “orange” or “purple” for his poem. Maybe he chose “blue” because whatever it is we hide isn’t good for us. I think this “blue” that we keep hidden behind a mask – whether it’s the thing itself or the sadness, despair, and loneliness that comes from living our lives in hiding – is what God means to uncover for us at every turn, and especially at Christmas. And it’s the kind of “blue” I mean for this worship service – this “color of Christmas” – to be about.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve been told by any number of people that they didn’t come to a particular event, or they weren’t in church one particular Sunday, or they couldn’t sit through the rest of a worship service, even, because they were just too sad, or struggling with too much, or knew they wouldn’t be able to sing, or serve, or stick around for small talk, pretending that everything was okay in their world. In other words, they just didn’t have the energy for the mask. (Notice how big and cumbersome Shel Silverstein paints the masks to be.)
And I understand, believe me. Between you and me, there are plenty of days when I’m only here because it’s my job to be here. I’m as good with a mask as any of you. But I also believe it’s on those days, at those moments, during those times in our lives when we’d rather bury ourselves under the covers or stay at home, safe and secure and secluded… when we’d rather keep our friends and our family, the world, and our God, even, at a distance…those are the times when God might just be inviting us to let ourselves be seen.
And I understand that “for everything there is a time and a season under heaven,” but in those moments when we’re hiding behind – or hiding from – whatever it is we’d rather keep to ourselves, we might just be better off making our confession; or singing a song; or hearing a good word; or praying a prayer, or whatever. When we stay hidden behind our masks or locked up and locked away in our grief or our fear or our struggle or whatever it may be, we are denying the reality – and missing the chance to see – that so many others are very often right there with us, struggling or suffering or scared, just like we are.
And that doesn’t always make things better, but the truth of that removes the illusion that any one of us can expect to be happy and content and without struggle and sadness at every moment.
Which is one of the greatest gifts of God, in Jesus, at Christmas, in the end. By choosing to show up, in the flesh, God takes off God’s own mask, and invites us to remove ours, too. Not only are we free to be just who and how God created us to be, but we are free and encouraged to feel just exactly who and how we are feeling – faithful and afraid; loved and lonely; hopeful, but grieving.
God shows up, in Jesus, to live this life we live with all of its struggle. God shows up, in Jesus, to teach us that light comes in the morning; that forgiveness is offered for sins; that what is lost can be found; that life follows death, even. God shows up, in Jesus, so that we can stop pretending we’re alone in this; so that we can stop searching for what seems elusive; so we can see in each other the face of this Christ: the common ground of our humanity, the forgiveness of sins, the light in our darkness, the life everlasting.
God shows up in Jesus, not to end all of our suffering and struggle, but to unmask it, to uncover it, to expose it to the light of God’s grace in one another, and to help us to bear it and to forgive it and to hope in spite of it, that it will all be redeemed by God’s grace, in the end.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.