I made a lot of mistakes as a Pastor.
Even prior to my second retirement, while serving as an Associate for Pastoral Care in our local parish, I made one having to do with the annual Longest Night service I was in charge of on the evening of Dec. 21, 2014. I can still remember it well, but there was as in most mistakes a helpful lesson to be learned through it all.
I had four ladies from our Grief Ministry team all set to read four scripture passages during the service from what we call the Psalms of Lament. I would then key in a message of how, like the ancient Hebrews, we might celebrate God’s presence even in our darkest of times.
But what was unfair to these ladies is that ahead of their readings came a song I had asked our Men’s Quartet to sing. It was that old secular classic by Billy Hayes and Jay Johnson titled, “Blue Christmas.” Yes, that one. The one Elvis made famous, with lyrics such as:
I'll have a blue Christmas without you
I'll be so blue just thinking about you
Decorations of red on a green Christmas tree
Won't be the same dear, if you're not here with me
And when those blue snowflakes start falling That's when those blue memories start calling You'll be doin' all right, with your Christmas of white But I'll have a blue, blue blue blue Christmas
By time for them to stand for their readings, all four of our ladies were bawling and sniffling and struggling to stay composed enough to handle their parts in the service. Their anguished memories of loved ones lost was more than enough to ruin their presentations no matter how many times they had privately rehearsed their respective readings beforehand.
I had messed up by putting that song in just ahead of their parts. Worse yet, I’d failed to warn them in advance. Even at the age of 68, I was still making my share of Pastoral errors.
My message that followed may or may not have redeemed me in some fashion that evening, but I do remember at least trying to make clear this one point: being blue today does not mean having to stay blue tomorrow. This, too, can pass. We really can get through the getting through, at least to some positive extent.
As Pastors, we even get through our own mistakes and move on. Still making our share of errors in the field, but at least different ones next time. And in that respect, we all are or can be like the Hebrew people who in exile could find no way to sing a happy song. They had every reason to cry out their laments of woe. Every reason to be blue. But being blue today doesn’t mean having to stay blue tomorrow. There is such a reality as a return from exile. Not to how things had been before but to how they can become again, if that makes any sense.
And with God’s help, I think it does make sense.
For those of us going through a tough time this month in anticipation of Christmas. For those finding it hard to sing a happy song in a foreign land, as it were. For us we may indeed be blue today. But we don’t have to stay blue tomorrow.
We can be like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. That’s right. The poet. Who back in the year 1863 found himself on the verge of having a very blue Christmas. It had been a bad year. And Henry had every reason in the world to lament.
Approaching Christmas day and the bittersweet sound of those church bells to come, Henry couldn’t get over thinking about even his first wife, Mary, who had died all the way back in 1835 during her miscarriage. Then just two years ago he had buried his second wife, this time after a fatal fire. They had but one child, a son named Charles, who earlier that year had left home against Henry’s wishes and joined the Union Army. Our nation’s Civil War was raging on, and now word had come that Charles lay wounded in an Army Hospital far from home.
It would be a blue, blue, blue Christmas. Or so Henry thought as he penned these words of rhyme onto paper one day:
I heard the bells on Christmas day Their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet the words repeat Of peace on earth, good will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head 'There is no peace on earth,' I said, 'For hate is strong and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.'
But here’s what made the difference for Henry. Here’s what made it possible for him to get through the getting through. It’s what helped him be blue today but not stay blue tomorrow. It’s a verse we can all rejoice in reading together even now out loud. Yep. I know it’s just a blogpost that you’re reading, but go ahead and let yourself read these words aloud even now.
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail With peace on earth, good will to men.'
Whatever your year has been like. Whatever mood you are in today. Whatever mistakes you may have made in the past. There’s always more to your story. And it will be about getting through the getting through.