Blue Christmas – Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus said, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
There is a famous Buddhist story about a woman who loses a child. The story goes that when the grieving mother is unable to accept her son’s passing, she demands medicine from the doctor, who knows full well that nothing will cure the dead boy. The doctor sends the grieving mother to the Buddha, who tells her to go out and collect five white mustard seeds from households where no one has suffered. (Presumably, the mustard seeds would be used for some kind of medicine.)
So the woman goes door to door, from neighbor to neighbor, explaining that she needs medicine for her child. Many people offer to give her mustard seeds, but every time she asks the householder if they have lost someone close to them – [every time she inquires about their suffering] – the answer is always yes. Eventually she goes back to the Buddha, empty-handed.
“Have you brought me the mustard seeds?” he asks.
“No,” she tells him. “But now I understand there is no one who has not lost someone they love – there is no one who has never suffered – and I have laid my child to rest.”
None of what we’re up to tonight is about dismissing our struggles and our sufferings, simply because everyone suffers at some time or another. None of this is about measuring the weight of our burdens or the severity of our sadness by comparing our suffering to that of others. I feel like every year I need to explain that this whole Blue Christmas “thing” is not about wallowing in our grief or crying in our beer, simply for the sake of it.
All of this, for me this year, anyway, is about gathering together – because of and in spite of what hurts or scares or confuses us most – especially at a time like Christmas – and looking for seeds.
Like the Buddha did for that grieving mother, this opportunity for worship on “The Longest Night” doesn’t need to be any more or less than a chance to do something in the face of the suffering and struggle that is part of our lives and that surrounds us in this world. The Buddha never had any intention of curing or healing or resurrecting the woman’s child with any magic potion, made from the mustard seeds he knew she’d never collect. The Buddha knew she’d learn something by doing… by searching… by encountering others… by telling her story and by hearing about the sadness of others along the way.
Because it is worth gathering with friends and family, with neighbors and strangers, even, and acknowledging what God already knows:
That we are hurting and scared by the world where we live. Because of Aleppo and Berlin. Because of Russia and Iraq. Because of presidential elections and political divides. Because of Tennessee fires and racial tensions, the list is so long there’s no time to check it twice.
And there’s much more, much closer to home, too.
We are here because our family is falling apart at the seams – or at least it feels that way, at times.
We are here because marriages are failing.
We are here because we love people who are dying, or because we’ve lost one-too-many loved ones this past year.
We are here because we don’t have money to pay the bills like we’d prefer, let alone enough to make Christmas everything we wish it could be.
We are here because we struggle with addictions no one knows about but us.
We are here because the years are moving faster than we’d like and because we can’t seem to slow it all down enough to get things under control.
We are here because we’ve made bad choices and we’re not sure what the next decision should be.
We are here because it’s hard to be a mother or a father; a husband or a wife; a daughter or a son; a sister or a brother; a better friend… a better employee…a better whatever.
And I hope that while we gather – as we search for seeds, or solutions, or answers, or miracles, even – we notice, like the woman in the story learned, that we are not alone. Not only is it healing and helpful to see that others are struggling and searching right along with us, but I hope we are reminded that we – and the suffering and struggles of our lives – are precisely why God shows up in Jesus – in the first place.
Because all of that is about reminding us that our problems aren’t solved with seeds – or pills or potions; our struggles don’t disappear when we do the right thing; our suffering doesn’t end when we follow all the rules. God never promises us any of that.
What God does promise us – what God does is – to show up in the form of Jesus, this one we can look upon and recognize in the faces and in the faith of those around us. Like the woman who thought she was looking for seeds, but really found what she needed in the hearts and lives of her neighbors, God wants the same for us, when we go waiting and hoping and looking for Jesus, together, at Christmas.
God wants for us to find, in one another, some common ground; a familiar face; a comforting presence; willing partners for the journey; a knowing that brings comfort and peace and hope.
Which is what we’re meant to find in Jesus – Emmanuel – “God with us,” too: common ground, a familiar face, real presence, one who has walked the way already, one who knows what is done, what is left undone and everything in between.
So here, we can raise a voice – in song, in sorrow, or in prayer; we can raise a white flag in submission and trust; we can raise a fist in defiant rebellion; we can even raise a middle finger – if you know what I mean – to the struggles with which we are so tired of contending.
Whatever the case… tonight – and all of Christmas, really – is an invitation to open ourselves to the presence of God, made known through the company of one another, and to hand it all over – the good, the bad, and the ugly of our lives – until we are loved into submission, loved into forgiveness, loved into hope, loved into whatever else God promises to birth from the seeds of even our deepest despair.
Amen. Merry Christmas.