Hey, my friends. Welcome back to Let’s Encourage One Another.
A couple of weeks ago, we talked about the tension of experiencing grief and heartache in a season of celebration, how it can be hard to hold those two things together in a way that feels authentic and true. And I gave you three truths to hold onto when it came to going through a difficult holiday season of your own. That was episode 38 if you missed it and want to go back and listen.
But today we’re talking about difficult holidays from a different angle, and that is, how do we support those in our churches and communities who are grieving this holiday season? How do we acknowledge their loss even amid the festivities?
And one thing that I have seen to be so incredibly helpful is offering a Blue Christmas service—sometimes called the Longest Night Worship Service, as it’s usually held on December 21, which is the longest night of the year.
A Blue Christmas service offers people a sacred space to not only remember their loved ones who have passed, but also to name their losses and griefs from the previous year, or maybe to recognize their disappointments or loneliness or fears. It is a refuge, of sorts. A way to acknowledge that they are not alone in the midst of their hurt. That others are hurting, too.
It’s about making space for the sadness that is already there. Naming it. Honoring it, even. Taking it to Christ. And yes, remembering the hope we have in Him.
It can be so incredibly powerful for someone who is grieving or going through a difficult season.
You know, several years ago, when I was on staff at a church, we had lost a really loved member of our church family, of our staff, and it was right before Easter and there were those in the church who didn’t want to celebrate Easter. It was hard. They were grieving. It was a devastating loss. And I knew that and felt it.
But I also knew that we couldn’t stay there. And I was talking to a couple of other staff members about it and, referring to Hebrews 10:23, I wrote to them, “Let us hold unswervingly to our hope… and keep encouraging those around us to do the same. We WILL celebrate Easter. We must. Jesus is our only hope. Without Him, we are lost. So cling tight. Don’t let go. We will pray our people through this time. We will be like our Good Shepherd… bandaging the injured, caring for the weak until they are strong again, rescuing those caught in dark places. And we do so with gentleness. Steadiness. Love. Hope.”
Just as we had to honor our community’s loss, we still needed to find a way to cling to the hope we have in Christ. And that is what a Blue Christmas service does.
So in today’s episode, I want to walk you through some basic parts of a Blue Christmas service, and then I invite you to grab my free Blue Christmas Planning Guide that helps you explore some specific practices that might work well for your congregation. Because every church is going to do things a little differently. And that’s okay. We want to choose activities and prayers that will minister to our people. You can find that at lovedoesthat.org/bluechristmas.
I would say there are five main things you want to consider when creating your own Blue Christmas service: the setting, the Bible verses, the prayers, the songs, and the lighting of the candles.
First, the setting. As this is a more somber, yet hopeful, service, we want to try to recreate that mood in the sanctuary itself. Keeping the lights lower is helpful, as well as having soft music playing. Now, make sure people can see their bulletin or paper if they need to, but otherwise, that darker setting creates a sense of privacy that allows individuals to more fully engage in the service.
Often, these Blue Christmas services are held in the evenings, so even if your church has these big windows in the sanctuary, it’s easier to keep it darker when the sun is setting or already down.
Have some tissues spread out throughout the sanctuary because there are likely to be tears, and you want to not have to require someone to get up in search of tissues during the service. That’s probably one of the most awkward things for me… if I start crying during a church service, to have to get up in front of everyone to go find a tissue.
Also, as part of the setting, please let people sit where they want to. Some will gravitate toward their usual seat, but some might want to spread out so they have some space to themselves, and that’s okay. Give them the space they need. Don’t crowd everyone together. The mere fact that they are there will speak volumes to each other that they aren’t going through their difficult season alone, that there are others who are hurting and grieving, too.
Second, the Bible verses. Reading Scripture is a big part of a Blue Christmas service because we want to make sure that we are standing on God’s Word and bringing Him our grief. Leaders can pick Bible passages that speak directly to the hurt and grief that people carry.
Verses like from Psalm 6 (NLT): “Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak. Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. I am sick at heart. How long, O Lord, until you restore me?… I am worn out from sobbing. All night I flood my bed with weeping, drenching it with my tears. My vision is blurred by grief…” (verses 2-3, 6-7a).
Or like Psalm 31 (NLT): “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress. Tears blur my eyes. My body and soul are withering away. I am dying from grief; my years are shortened by sadness. Sin has drained my strength; I am wasting away from within” (verses 9-10).
Scripture is full of passages that recognize the difficult parts of life. People are killed or pass away. People get sick. People deal with the hurt they endure from others. Don’t shy away from these parts of the Bible because they give us words to use when we, too, are struggling.
But remember that we also want to remind them of the hope we have in Christ, so passages like Hebrews 10:23 (NLT), that I referred to earlier, are perfect. It says, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.”
There’s also Hebrews 6:18-19 (NLT): “Therefore, we who have fled to him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.”
Third, the prayers. The prayers we offer during a Blue Christmas service don’t have to be fancy or full of big words, but they do need to simply and authentically acknowledge the grief and loss of the people.
You can find prayers in the Book of Common prayers or explore your own denominational resources for responsive prayers for occasions of grief or loss. Or, honestly, you can write your own.
The ones that tend to speak the most to me and to those I work with are prayers that acknowledge and honor the pain but also speak to God’s presence during those times, reminding us that we are not alone.
For example, there’s one from Presbyterian Mission that says this:
“You know that we come to you with heavy hearts that we find hard to unburden. It is particularly in this time of year when the darkness of long solstice nights collides with the brilliance of Christmas lights, that we find it hard to express our losses. We may be confused, sad, lonely, and feeling our losses without remembering that you are always there to support us. We tend even toward anger at you, Lord, because we feel in some way it is your will that we are unhappy. Sometimes we feel cut off from you because we allow our many hurts to engulf us. We lack trust in you. Open us to the understanding that you are the source of all love and we need not feel so alone in our grief. Grant us wisdom to know that you— most of all—can be trusted, and that you are with us, especially when we are at our absolute worst.”
So there’s the setting of the Blue Christmas service, the Bible verses, and the prayers. Next, we want to consider the songs.
The songs we sing during a Blue Christmas service are a bit different than the ones we might sing on Christmas Eve because we want songs of both longing and hope.
“O Come O Come Emmanuel” is a common one, and sometimes the only one, that is used throughout the service, singing just a verse at a time.
And honestly, even an acoustic version of a song like Tenth Avenue North’s “Worn” would be quite powerful, I believe, where the lyrics speak to the weariness and heaviness your members might be carrying with them. Listen to this:
“I’m tired, I’m worn
My heart is heavy
From the work it takes
To keep on breathin’
I’ve made mistakes
I’ve let my hope fade
My soul feels crushed by the weight of this world
I know that you can give me rest
So I cry out with all that I have left”
Again, throughout the service, you also want to remind your community of the hope we have in Christ, so songs like “Little Town of Bethlehem” or “O Come All Ye Faithful” are good. One of my favorites right now is Chris Tomlin’s “Christmas Alleluia” because it’s just so powerful and so worshipful.
Finally, the lighting of the candles. Now this isn’t necessarily a required part of a Blue Christmas service, but it is quite common, and what happens is that throughout the service, you might light a certain number of candles to acknowledge different types of loss your congregation has faced.
Here’s what is often listed in Blue Christmas services:
One candle is lit for those who have passed,
one candle is lit to redeem the pain of the loss,
one candle is lit to honor ourselves, and
one candle is lit for the gift of faith and hope we find in the Christmas story.
Then, toward the end of the service, maybe you invite individuals to come up and light a candle of their own in honor of a loved one they are remembering that year, or a specific loss or struggle they are dealing with. They don’t have to say anything, but the act of getting up and doing something in the service itself can be so incredibly powerful and healing.
Weaving It All Together
In all, you’ll take these five elements—the setting, the Bible verses, the prayers, the songs, and the candles—and weave them together in a way that takes participants on a journey. They start by recognizing their losses and struggles and naming those before God. But they end with remembering the hope they have, that a Savior has come and died for them and who will one day make all things right.
Now, I know time is running short before Christmas, so if you’re looking for a ready-to-go resource, I recommend the Blue Christmas pack from my friend Laurie Acker at Creative Little Church. It has not only the service itself, but promotional materials and postcards and all kinds of helpful pieces to help your church or your women’s ministries or your student ministries, even, offer a Blue Christmas service this year. You can find her resource at https://thecreativelittlechurch.com. I’ll put the direct link in the show notes below.
And then, in addition to that, I encourage you to grab my free Blue Christmas Planning Guide to help you put some personal touches on your own service. This planning guide will provide you with a list of additional activities you might want to include for your congregation. Things that allow your members to more fully engage with the service and reflect on their grief and healing. It will also help you think through some other things you’ll need to consider as you plan. You can get that at lovedoesthat.org/bluechristmas.
You can also consider grabbing my new Advent resource, When Your Silent Night Feels Empty. This is kind of like a Blue Christmas service that you can do on your own. There is a guided audio prayer, journal prompts, and Scripture writing to help you name your grief and losses, but also remember the hope you have. You can get that in the shop at lovedoesthat.org, or if you are listening to this episode on the day it comes out, it’s the last day of our Thanksgiving Fundraiser, and if you share about that today on social and tag me in your post, I will send you the Advent resource for free.
So there’s the Blue Christmas pack from thecreativelittlechurch.com, my free Blue Christmas Planning Guide at lovedoesthat.org/bluechristmas, and then the Advent resource, When Your Silent Night Feels Empty, in our shop at lovedoesthat.org/shop.
Okay, that’s all for today, my friends. Until next time…
GET THE BLUE CHRISTMAS PLANNING GUIDE:
SHOP OUR THANKSGIVING FUNDRAISER (Nov. 15-30)
We’ll donate 15% of all sales to local non-profit, Love INC. Plus, you’ll be entered to win our digital prize pack.
DON’T WANT TO GO THROUGH THE HOLIDAYS ALONE?
I’d be honored to walk with you through a difficult holiday season and help you attune yourself to God’s presence and work in your life.
- Advent Resource: When Your Silent Night Feels Empty
- Creative Little Church: Blue Christmas Pack
- Episode 9: Supporting a Friend Through Grief (And Walking Through It Yourself) with Karen Altizer
- Episode 38: 3 Truths to Remember During a Difficult Holiday Season