It started as an ordination project.
Two years ago I had to lead a “fruitfulness project” to fulfill one of my ordination requirements. The project is intended to demonstrate a pastor’s effectiveness in leading a ministry that seeks to make disciples. That is the simplest way of defining the project.
I had a couple of ideas for my project – a study on the Book of Revelation, a youth ministry intern, etc. – but my heart settled on this worship service I had heard about. It was called a Blue Christmas or Longest Night Service.
A Blue Christmas Service or Longest Night Service typically takes place on the first day of winter – the longest night of the year – and recognizes how many of us struggle during the Christmas season. The service is intended to offer hope and expressions of peace in the midst of our struggles.
I liked the concept, but I just didn’t like the name. Who wants to go to something called a Blue Christmas service? I am not ashamed to admit that my first thoughts were of Elvis’ classic, “Blue Christmas.” I didn’t want to go there. In the planning, we started to think about what is this service really about and that is hope. So, a simple name change became part of the core principle of the worship: Service of Hope.
For me, the purpose Service of Hope, which we will offer at Ogden Memorial this Sunday at 7 p.m. is two-fold. First, it gives us space to recognize that Christmas is not always about “Joy to the World,” but is often about realizing our need of joy and hope. Too often Christmas provides a place where we remember those who are not here, unrealized dreams, lost relationships, and missed opportunities. We often experience at Christmas the difficulties of family, the weight of caring for someone, and the pressures of life.
Sometimes we don’t want to recognize that we struggle at Christmas. I know this is true in my own life. Last year, I was not myself at Christmas. I was struggling with going to West Virginia to a home where my grandfather would not be and to celebrate with one less family member. It took me awhile to recognize my own need of hope last Christmas, even as I sought to offer hope to people who were spending time with family members in their own end-of-life battles.
That leads to the second purpose for the Service of Hope. That is to allow us to experience the presence of the Christ child and the promise of Emmanuel: God with us. When we are dealing with life we need that reminder of how we are not alone and that God is there. It’s hard to experience this reality in the moment, so giving us a space to encounter the holiness and grace of God is important.
It won’t fix all of our pain, but it will remind us that no matter what we face we do so with the hope of God’s presence, the love of the Lord, the peace of his comfort, and the joy of his life that leads us.
That is why the Service of Hope is important for all of us. I hope to see you on Sunday evening at 7 p.m.