I left the original text is still there, just with the line through so you can decide for yourself what works best in your setting.
I did add a bit that deals with depression and loss other than grieving someone who died. You will see my additions in brackets [ ]
May your service be blessed and full of healing and comfort!
Set in a prominent place in the sanctuary should be vase with water and dead, gray sticks coming out of it. Each person, as they enter, shall be given a blue or purple carnation or rose. These probably need to be ordered ahead of time, as most florists do not have them on hand. Placed around the vase may be votive candles as well as the bread and cup for Communion.
The candles for the Advent wreath should be lit before the service. If this service is held on the Longest Night, the fourth Advent candle – the candle of love has probably been lit. Later in the service, each person will be invited to take the flame from the candle of love – which cannot be extinguished by death- and light a votive for the person/persons they mourn. They then place a blue carnation in the vase amongst the dead sticks. After all have placed in the vase, it becomes quite a beautiful winter arrangement. This arrangement can be left in an inconspicuous place in the sanctuary for the Christmas Eve celebration.
Music can be used in this service, but as an undertone to set the mood. If you have a musician available, then they can play calming music at the beginning of the service, and possibly some recognizable hymns (not Christmas carols) during Communion. One song that is suggested can be played as a CD, but permission from the artist must still be granted. I do not have the right to grant usage rights, it is merely a suggestion because I think it is a beautiful song.
Words of Welcome
The Advent season is one of wonder. For so many it is a time of hopeful anticipation. It is a season of promise. The longer nights and the gray clouds seem to provide the perfect background for the lights and the tinsel. The decorations are everywhere we turn. For so many, this is a time of [expectancy and joy]. But for many of us, especially those of us gathered here, Christmas is a harsh reminder of life that once was. So we gather not so much in hopeful anticipation, but in the cloud of despair. While so many are ready to sing “Joy to the World,” we gather as those that mourn. We gather now to carve out a time of quiet reflection. We gather to shed tears if they come, to hold hands if they are available, and to know that we are not alone. Whether this is the first Christmas without someone you love, or if you seem to be hurting from loss for as long as you remember, [w]e gather to be reminded that it is okay to mourn, even at Christmas.
Prayer for those that mourn at Christmas
[Lord] In this season of anticipation, we seek the comfort of the Holy Spirit. We ask for your blessing this night upon those that mourn, for the pain at Christmas seems sharper. We remember the words of Jesus, who promised comfort to those that mourn. All around us are reminders of the joy that the world tells us we are supposed to be feeling. Forgive us, O God, for not joining in the celebration with our whole hearts. Guide us now, O Holy One, that we may move in still small steps from mourning to comfort. Help us to find healing in the midst of the pain, and order in the midst of chaos. Lighten our burden. Give us rest. Amen
Words of Grace
The Lord is merciful and gracious; slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to the faithful. For the Lord knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon the faithful, and the righteousness of the Lord to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. (Psalm 103: 8, 13-14, 17-18)
Matthew 11:28-30 (Common English Version)
“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”
New International Version (NIV)
38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Words of Reflection (From “Longest Night” from the blog http://fatpastor.me)
On Christmas Eve churches everywhere will be filled with happy people. The lights will be on, the poinsettias arranged, the sweaters will be bright, and the smiles will be wide. People will gather in the pews and sing the traditional carols, hear the Christmas story, and light candles. Millions on Christmas Eve night will rise and sing “Joy to the World.”
Many of those same people that will rise and sing on December 24 will go to bed on December 21 and face the longest night of the year in despair. There will be many that lie down wondering, “Where is the joy?” For people that are hurting, struggling, or mourning, the longest night of the year is so very long.
The bills have not been paid, the credit debt is mounting, and work is hard to come by. The night is so very long.
My [grandmother died this year]. Christmas won’t be the same. I miss her smile. I miss her words of wisdom. I miss her so much, and the night is so very long.
[One young man shared: my choices have not been the best lately, for a few years actually. It started with a few drinks, and then a few more. And then the few became a pack a day. I didn’t really see it getting bad, I guess the beer helped me not to see. And then things started to fall apart. Work wasn’t good. Family wasn’t good. Friends didn’t want to hang out much anymore. And I started to see. So now I see. And what’s before me is a big mess, hardly something to be celebrated. I’m here. I’m sober. I give thanks for that. But a joyful Christmas seems pretty far away at this point, but the nights are still so long.]
[One man shared] For the last 53 Christmases I have been with my [wife]. [she] held me in [her] arms as we watched the children, then the grandchildren, open their presents. [She] made hot cocoa every Christmas morning. I do not even know the recipe, and the night is so very long.
[It just hurts, I don’t really know why. But I’m sad and I’m tired and I don’t want to get out and do things. Everything takes so much energy and my heart is heavy. There’s no one thing I could blame it on. I wish I could, at least then I could try and fix it. Instead, I’m just here sad, lonely, and depressed. And the night is so long].
[One woman shared] the onesies I got for Christmas last year are put in a box in the attic. Never worn. Never held. I miss my child and I never held him in my arms, and the night is so very long.
The night can be so very long. The night can be so very dark and cold.
Some say that everything happens for a reason. God is in control, and has a plan. But what kind of God could plan such things? Is this the God that I am supposed to celebrate? Is this the God that I am supposed to worship? How can I sing “Joy to the World,” when there is none in my own heart?
Christmas does not mean everything is okay. Christmas did not end the sadness, the pain or the despair. For those that are hurting at Christmas, I hope you know that you are not alone. I do not offer you simple platitudes. I do not offer you easy answers. All I can offer you is my love and God’s compassion.
I don’t think that everything happens for a reason. I think there are terrible things that happen every day that God did not plan. If it this were not so, then why would Jesus ask us to pray for God’s will to be done? I also think that God gives us the power and the grace to overcome even the worst that can happen. God gives us the chance to heal and be healed; to feed and be fed; to love and be loved.
The longest night can be so very long. Christmas does not end the night, but it gives us hope for the dawn.
[In just two days], it will be into the longest night of the year. Take this time, and claim it, but do not linger here. Know that [soon] the night[s] will be shorter. Know that soon, the light of God will break through. Know that on Christmas, God broke through the chaos. Know that on Christmas, God came to life so that we may have life abundant and life eternal. [And fortunately, God is not bound by our calendar. So Christmas, in God’s terms, God with us, revealed in us, happens every day in some way for someone somewhere. Our Christmas may be December 25th, or it might be the 23rd, or it might be January 4th, or February 5th. We can’t plan that calendar, but we can look forward to Christmas coming and God breaking through the darkness and chaos in our own lives].
We gather here today to acknowledge that our pain is real.
Act of Remembrance and Communion
We gather in this place with signs all around. The Advent wreath has been lit, with the lights of hope, peace, joy, and love already lit as we prepare the way of the coming of Jesus. If, as the Bible says, God is love, and God is eternal, then love is eternal as well. Tonight, we are reminded that nothing can extinguish the candle of love. The love that God has for us is steadfast and endures forever. The love that we have for those we mourn cannot be extinguished by death.
In front of us are sticks. This collection of dead sticks is here as a reminder that we are always surrounded by death. The cycle of life to death is in all of creation. When you entered, you were given a
Also in front of us are the bread and the cup. These are the elements of our Lord’s Last Supper. It was a supper he shared with his disciples when he knew that his life on earth was coming to an end. The bread, which is for us the body of Christ, is broken. It reminds us of our human frailty, and of our unity as the Body of Christ. The cup, which is for us the blood of Christ, is shed. It reminds us of the Christ’s death on a cross, and of the forgiveness that is offered to all.
He healed the sick, fed the hungry, forgave the afflicted, comforted the mourning, worked for justice, and wept for his friends. He proclaimed that the Kingdom of God is at hand, and calls all people to enter with rejoicing. He came so that we may have life, and have it abundantly, and he invites us all into life eternal. By the baptism of his love, compassion, suffering, death, and resurrection Christ gave birth to his Church, delivered us from slavery to sin and death, and made with us a new covenant by water and the Spirit.
(I summarized the last supper. I know this isn’t kosher for some folks who believe the whole liturgy needs to be read. I’m not that Orthodox. I did offer the prayer asking for the bread and juice to be transformed and for us to be transformed as a part of it. I simply had people come for communion, then separated out the other parts with the roses and the votives)
[The roses are a reminder of love, of hope, of new life. And so we place them in the middle of the dead branches to remind ourselves that death never has the final word. In a moment, I invite you to come and place your hope (rose) into the vase. After (or before), I invite you to come and light a candle, or two, or three, for those you mourn]
Blessing and Sending Forth
This arrangement, which was once barren and gray, was only a reminder of death, [barreness and sadness]. Now it is something beautiful. It is a reminder that God take all things and make them new. Death [and loss and sorrow are]