This material originally published in Nothing too religious
Material in this liturgy can be used locally freely with acknowledgement. Please include any hymns on your CCL or other licence return with these details – Words © 2018 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England firstname.lastname@example.org . Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd
Leader: It is close to Christmas and for all of us this raises mixed emotions. It is a cliché to say that this time is difficult. But it is. It can be. Some of us have lost children or parents, sisters or brothers. Some of us have relationships that are crumbling or marriages or partnerships that have broken. And they say this is a time for families.
All around are signs of wealth and everyone seems to be spending, yet we have no money. Debt cripples us and we see no end to it, but others want us to ‘join in’. For some of us work is a memory, or we have been put out of work at just the wrong time, if ever there is a right time.
And how can we celebrate waiting for the results of medical tests, feeling unwell or knowing that we are terminally ill.
It is easy to feel very alone or depressed.
No one here will make light of this or deny the reality of another’s distress. We are here because we need to be here.
What I’m going to ask you to do is for no-one else to see unless you choose, for no-one else to know. Write on a piece of paper, draw if you prefer, something which expresses what you really feel. Swear if you like. Say what you dare not say outside. Let loose your feelings.
In the quiet give time for people to write or draw or simply to sit. When you judge that they are done continue.
Leader: As we think on what we have written or drawn let us quietly listen to some music.
Music This should be sensitively chosen, need not be religious and must not have words.
Leader: So what is this Christmas?
This time of tinsel
This time of tinsel hides a paradox.
Homeless and cold the unmarried mother, the uncertain father, wait. You’ve heard the story – unreal – shepherds and angels, wise men and imagined camels, an inn and a star. It all added up to a squalid birth in a dirty out-house. No-one to turn to, miles from home and soon to be refugees.
Two thousand years on we meet. And it’s all meant to be perfect. It never was, it never is, it never will be. That’s reality, not some imagined fairy-tale.
When they returned I suppose there were mundane moments, shopping, bartering, making ends meet. This carpenter (was he a master carpenter?) reliant on orders, rushed off his feet one minute, trying to make ends meet the next, make do and mend. Tongues wagging at their, sometimes strained, strange relationship. Those plaster saints make it all look so idyllic; not quite human; not human at all.
Jesus was nearly thirty when he took that ‘adolescent’ hike out into the wilderness after hearing his cousin’s preaching. If it wasn’t for his quiet demeanour you’d label him fanatical. He was out there forty days. I guess his parents worried, perhaps like they had when they’d lost him in the city, in Jerusalem, that time. It doesn’t matter how old they grow they’re still your children, they still matter.
And then he was going to set the world to rights. In the end they got him. Hung him out to dry. And she watched. That was real, blood and nails and that crass crown. Yes that was real to him, to his parents.
And again, here we are. Still this strange Christmas. We know more now about that story but they keep making it into some cartoon of unreality. Given a chance we can identify with the search for somewhere to stay, existing hand to mouth to try to get a living, the criticism of friends about the way we live our lives. Perhaps we know the grief of losing a child, of watching suffering and being unable to prevent it, of facing an uncertain future.
Yes, now it’s you and me. And our story is all too real too.
The tinsel, the baubles, the lights just heighten our sense of being outside of it all. Just pause for a moment and realise how unreal all that is. Then picture that first Christmas. We’re probably nearer the reality of it than any carolling crowd, any supermarket hype, any over-facing feast. For Mary and Joseph, for Jesus, the reality of Christmas and all that followed was grounded in human need, fear, uncertainty.
They believed, though, that God was there with them, not in the palaces with the fortunate, the undisturbed. That’s important. God is still here, with you and me. That’s the story, theirs and ours. Amen. So be it. Amen.
Leader: Now hear these words:
Reader: Remember, says God, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Your help comes from me, I will not let your foot be moved; I will not slumber. I will neither slumber nor sleep.
I will keep you from all evil, even that evil, that fear in which you rest at this moment. I will keep you safe.
Remember that this God will keep as you come or go.
God will keep you at Christmas and beyond.
From this time on, we can know in our hearts and our minds that nothing will ever be able to separate us from God’s love. (adapted from Psalm 121; Matthew 28, 20; Romans 8, 39 NRSV)
Leader: If you feel that you can, then sing these words with me:
Awake again within the love
that lit the stars, that formed the earth,
that ransomed captive Israel
that met us in Messiah's birth:
we praise you God, our ground of hope,
our source of life and faith and grace.
We reach to you beyond this realm
yet greet you in each other's face.
You are the paradox of power
poured out till love is all that's left:
till ancient fears are met and quelled
and death itself is staunched, bereft.
So, as we face another day,
as hours unfold and hopes are honed,
enlarge our insight of your love,
until our faith is fully grown.
Leader: And now let us mark this moment that we might remember this time.
Let those who wish to let go of the paper on which they wrote or drew. (a receptacle or a shredder can be available for the paper) Then light a candle as a sign that we hope for light even in our darkness, that we trust that in Jesus light has come into the world and that the darkness has never, will never put out that light.
While this takes place music can again be played. This should be sensitively chosen, need not be religious and must not have words.
And our prayers:
For those who grieve
Part of your memory
will be rooted in this place –
the time of sorrow
that you thought would never end.
Part of your life
will always be linked
to this pilgrimage –
Yet now you know
that she is carried with you
in the joy of living.
you live she dances alongside you
and in her freedom
you can breathe in that remembrance
© Marjorie Dobson
Leader: For those living with broken love, abused or let down by those they trusted:
You are alone
but you will not be alone.
You have been let down,
Yet God will ease your pain,
and wait with you in sorrow.
Tomorrow, whenever tomorrow comes,
God will build with you again.
You are more precious to God than you can imagine
for God loves you
even when you cannot love yourself.
There will be a new tomorrow.
And the pain of today will gradually fade.
The guilt of today will pass.
The light of hope will dawn again
bringing colour back to your life.
Leader: For those in debt
The ends will never meet
and there are so many ‘needs’
and still more ‘wants’.
Everyone around seems to have all that they need, and more.
And you feel despair for you enter this season of plenty empty.
All seems hopeless.
Festivity is passing you by.
words don’t take away the debt.
The experience of others is not yours.
But you are more valuable to God
than you might anticipate.
Even in your depression and hopelessness
you are worth more
than if you were not here.
God will not leave you.
You will live through this time.
Hold fast to the love that will never let you go
and when your grasp is feeble
remember you are held.
Remember, Love lives!
Leader: For those who are sick or dying
Anxiety never helped
Anxiety never helped
but anxiety is your watchword.
It must be.
Well that’s how it seems.
All this talk of birth and children;
the noise of play disturbs
and thoughts are of young lives
that you will never see grown.
is cruel, very cruel.
It all seems hopeless
It’s not that tomorrow never comes,
it comes to soon
and is filled with dread.
This spiral of depression seems to go
all the way down.
Is there no way up? T
hose words come back again...
nothing in all creation,
nothing in life or death, St Paul says,
that can separate us from God’s love...
May you be assured of the truth of these words,
at this very moment,
and in all that the future brings.
Remember, Love lives!
Leader: And if you can a hymn to end our time together:
When fear of what might lie ahead
When fear of what might lie ahead
is racing through your mind,
you're held within a greater love,
for God is calm and kind.
When clouds obscure both joy and faith
and hope is coarsely scorned,
a hidden grace of stronger power ,
that God has forged, is formed.
Around you there is human love,
and human hands to touch,
a person holds you as you weep,
God knows you need as much.
The love in which you're framed and held
will hold when hope has gone,
together in companionship
there's strength to carry on.
And when you come again beyond
the darkness to the light,
that love that held you will not wane
for God will make things right.
Leader: As we depart greet each other if you can. Know that others are bound to you by the time we have shared, will pray with you and for you in the coming days.
This time will pass.
We will come through it together.
God’s steadfast loving kindness and faithfulness can be mirrored in our concern,
in genuine love for each other.
Then let us go in peace. Amen. Amen.