Christmas Blessings

Advent is the strangest time to not be in the parish. I don’t find the same to be true in Lent because most people aren’t busy like pastors are busy in that season. But when December rolls around, everyone seems to be in a hurry. There is a rush to get to the finish line on Christmas Day or so I’m told.

My job right now is to cuddle with my kids and tell them the Christmas story again and again. I’m teaching them carols to sing to their babies and hoping by God’s good grace that they somehow get that Christmas is not all about Santa. (Why is my four year old so attached to this thing that I haven’t emphasized at all?) I get to bake cookies and everything feels very slow compared to the frantic pace that I remember well from congregational leadership.

I remember the stress when there wasn’t worry about variants and droplets adding to that usual Advent stress. I am praying for you, dear pastor. I am because you are doing so much and I want things to be just the tiniest bit easier for you. So I’m creating this gathering of all of the things you might need or want for your Christmas planning from the stuff that’s already in these pages and you can’t be bothered to search for. It’s all right here.

As the days are getting shorter and the grief of this pandemic season is just endless, the service I wrote last year for the Longest Night might be what you need in your ministry right now. I really love this one. It might be my favorite. I challenged myself to write a series of blessings for the grieving and I really like how it came together. I still like it though you might tweak some of the language to reflect this year. (I give you permission to edit, as needed.) When the Night Has Already Been Too Long can be purchased here.

Last year, I also created a series of liturgies for Christmas Eve including this service called Shadows and Light which is a Lessons and Carols kinda thing except that it is also like a Tenebrae service where the birth of Christ welcomes the whole Light of the World in a quiet, gentle sorta way. I have another complete Lessons and Carols Service in Coronatide from last year that might work for this year. I am keenly aware that the use of a lot of the poetry that I have used would require additional licenses and permissions. It’s for this reason that I created The Joy the World Needs musing on Howard Thurman’s Work of Christmas and some beautiful words shared by United Church of Christ colleagues.

Or if this service is a little “political” for your good people — and it might well be — then you could just download this wonderful blessing from two talented United Church of Christ colleagues who launched this new worship collaborative and are offering this Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols script for FREE.

I also created something simple — really, really simple — for an outdoor worship experience on Christmas Eve that tells the story without speech or song. Hard to believe, I know. The good news shines through in Christmas Eve Under Pandemic Skies and it can be purchased here.

Sunday rolls around really, really quickly after Christmas Eve and I wanted to have multiple options for you, dear pastor, because I know you don’t want to preach. This year, I created this fireside experience designed for Zoom. You get to stay in your pajamas, dear pastor, and you deserve it.Or you might opt for the new liturgy I created called New Year Epiphanies. You can read all about it here.

You might also decide to use New Year Epiphanies on that Second Sunday of Christmas if that’s not when you are celebrating Epiphany. I offered these Pandemic Prayers for Epiphany last year and I’ll be sharing more ideas for the whole Season after Epiphany in my next email — so be sure to subscribe here.

Until then, you might be planning ahead for the second week of January rolls around because you might get a vacation or something blessed like that, and so you might be looking for for these Pandemic Prayers for Baptism of Christ. It’s a series of prayer stations and might be one of the favorite things I’ve created in this long pandemic season.

I hope these many things bless you this Christmas, dear pastor and though I’ve said it a thousand times and you might not really believe it, still, I am praying for you, dear pastor. I’m praying for you so much. I really am.

Pandemic Longest Night and Christmas Eve Worship

If you’ve been clicking around From My Kitchen or found my newsletter earlier this week in your email, this is old news to you. You are busy, dear pastor. You have already seen this. You can go do the many other things on your list.

If you were not so lucky to find these things yet (and I do hope these are things that make you feel lucky and joyous), I’m thrilled to finally share with you the services I’ve been working on for Longest Night and Christmas Eve. These were surprisingly hard to write. I am not exactly sure why that is.

Advent began with decorations on our tree and lights filling the house. It wasn’t the same as hanging the greens at church. I am feeling that loss as I know so many are in this strange new season — further compounded by the fact that I couldn’t get worship to stream from our tiny Texas church. It is one of those pandemic frustrations of having technology fail when it is our life line and it still annoyed the crap out of me, but I’ve been working on these liturgies long before the tree went up. As the year ends, I’m finding it hard to both find words for the grief of this moment and to find the joy that should overflow when we’ve finally found our way to Bethlehem.

After all, Advent feels as though it started in March when the first stay-at-home orders swept across the country because of the rampant spread of the coronavirus. We have been apart from each other for much of this year which has made 2020 feel like an especially long year.

I dove into the ancient psalms of lamentation after trying really hard to make the creation story work in how we talk about the night at this moment. I found comfort in psalms that didn’t express my lament but reminded me of the hope that we find in God. Those are the words we love and need to hear again and again, right? I hoped to make space for how hard it is to name the immensity of our grief right now because it’s not just that we have lost someone dear. It is not just one death but millions of deaths worldwide due to a virus that is not yet contained or really understood. It is the devastation we have seen to our planet while glued to our screens. It is the anxiety of constantly refreshing our browsers for hope and maybe some good news and it’s the backward summersault that too many of us have done into anti-racism work this year. We have lost more lives than we can imagine and maybe we have wondered if we even lost a tiny bit of ourselves.

There has been so much loss. There is still so much that is unknown even as a new church year has dawned. When the Night Has Already Been So Long, we are looking for some way to speak to that immense grief. That’s what I hope this online worship experience will offer to the gathered community huddled around candles in their own homes. I hope it’s a chance to be together and hold vigil for a new day to dawn. 

I actually wrote the Christmas Eve service first. It felt really strange to me to write Advent liturgies before writing Christmas Eve this year because I have always worked backwards. I have always needed to know what Christmas is going to look like and feel like until I can really figure out how Advent might feel and I’m not sure these services are at all related. Shadows and Light is really a service that makes room for more grief than the typical Christmas celebration. I hope there is joy. I hope it gets there in the music and poetry I’ve selected but Christmas always has a quietness to it.

It’s that quietness that has always puzzled me. When the birth of Christ is most vivid, we turn out all the lights to sit in the dark and sing a lullaby. It’s beautiful. Don’t get me wrong. It’s just not really joyous. (I know. I know. Don’t mess with tradition.) But I did.

I did mess with tradition when I was in my last settled call. It came out of a worship planning conversation where we talked about more light and so I created an Advent wreath (except that it wasn’t a wreath) where more candles were added each week and we named the light we saw coming into the world aloud. Then, on Christmas Eve, I didn’t do Silent Night. It wasn’t there. I got lots of complaints because church people love tradition without questioning why we do what we do.

If you are reading this and you were one of the wonderful people at that church who allowed me to experiment and play so much, I want you to know I am grateful for the space you gave me. I’m even more grateful that I got to be your pastor.

If ever there was a year where we could do something a teeny tiny bit different, I thought this year might be it. I thought maybe we could try it again and see what we might learn. You know your people best, dear pastor. You know if this is what is needed this year or if tradition is really what people need right now. You know.

Inspired by the Tenebrae tradition that is so familiar to Holy Week celebrations, Shadows and Light flows like a service of Lessons and Carols with song and story weaving together the good news of this birth.

More and more candles are lit to welcome the Light of the World before Joy to the World is sung with full gusto and glory.

As usual, I use quite a bit of poetry and you’ll find I’ve updated Poetry for Lessons and Carols to reflect some of the choices I’ve made for this service. (Ok, I also added a bunch more that I just loved and didn’t include in this service.)

Both liturgies are available for $10 each using the above links by immediate download. Or if you are interested in both worship services, you can find this Shadow and Night Bundle for $15 here.

Music suggestions are provided in both liturgies and was quick to add a few more when I discovered these FREE Christmas Carol videos especially for online worship. I know that pastors are not the only ones that are tired right now.

I also decided to make Christmas Eve Under Pandemic Skies available for just $2 for those are looking for a safe way to worship outside in a pandemic. It was part of the outdoor prayer station experience I helped to design for my sweet Texas church. And yes, I know this won’t work on some church properties and especially in many climates. If anything, you can tell your worship committee (or other angry church member) that such a thing exists and you would be overjoyed if they would take a lead in planning it.

I know how busy this time of year is for you, dear pastors. I am holding you close and lighting candles for your courage, your strength and your abundant faith.