An Advent Service for those who Grieve

Hands in the darkness, cupping a lighted candleIn recent years there has been a greater recognition that the season leading up to Christmas – with all its emphasis on joy and family – can be a heart-breaking time for many. December is hard for those who are grieving, lonely or suffering. In consideration of this, some churches, hospitals and cemeteries offer a service that has become affectionately known as “Blue Christmas.”

The sad irony for me is that much of the “pre-Christmas” season is a time when we should actually be observing Advent. And Advent is a season that resonates strongly with those who are hurting. Indeed, much of what we find in “Blue Christmas” liturgies actually comes from the traditional readings for Advent.

Below I’m including a summarized version of the 2016 “Blue Christmas” liturgy as it was arranged by a lay-committee for St. James Cathedral, Toronto. I trust that you’ll find comfort in the promise of a loving Father who sees all that is in your heart, and in the knowledge that one day he will wipe away every tear from your eyes (Revelation 21:4).


A Service of Prayer and Reflection
for when Christmas is a Difficult Time

Hymn: O come, O come, Emmanuel

O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, O Rod of Jesse’s stem, from every foe deliver them
that trust your mighty power to save, and give them victory o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, O Key of David, come, and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

O come, O Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by your drawing nigh;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to you, O Israel!

The Advent Collect

Almighty God,
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility,
that on the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge both the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A Reading from the Book of Isaiah 40: 1-8

Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.

A voice cries out:
“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out!” and I said, “What shall I cry?”
All people are grass; their constancy is like the flower of the field.
The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the Lord blows upon it;
surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades;
but the word of our God will stand forever.

Psalm 146

Praise the Lord, O my soul; while I live will I praise the Lord: /
yea, as long as I have any being, I will sing praises unto my God.
O put not your trust in princes nor in any child of man; /
for there is no help in them.
For when the breath of man goeth forth, he shall turn again to his earth: /
and then all his thoughts perish.
Blessed is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, /
and whose hope is in the Lord his God;
Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is; /
who keepeth his promise for ever;
Who helpeth them to right that suffer wrong; /
who feedeth the hungry.
The Lord looseth men out of prison: /
the Lord giveth sight to the blind.
The Lord raiseth up them that are fallen: /
the Lord loveth the righteous.
The Lord careth for the strangers; he upholdeth the fatherless and widow: /
as for the way of the ungodly, he turneth it upside down.
The Lord thy God, O Sion, shall be King for evermore, /
and throughout all generations.

The First Candle

In darkness we feel loss and the grief loss brings. We light this candle for remembrance.

As Mary kept all the things she learned about her Son at his birth, and pondered them in her heart, so we can keep our loved ones in our hearts by remembrance.

Let us pray for those from our church family, and others known to us, who have died this year.

(Silence)

Rest eternal grant unto them O Lord.
And let light perpetual shine upon them.

Prayers of loss and remembrance

Loving God, we ask your blessing on all who have lost loved ones.
May we know your peace, even in our grief.
Help us to learn to live without the physical presence of our loved ones,
but to know your spiritual closeness.
Give us the courage and strength to carry on with our lives,
both cherishing the past and looking to the future.
Bless those who have not achieved reconciliation with loved ones.
Help us to find peace of mind in leaving grievances behind,
and in trusting in your power of reconciliation.

Dear God, we thank you for memories of happy times and beloved people
that bring us comfort and encouragement.
Thank you for families and friends to share memories and to nurture us.
Help us to let go of unhappy or damaging memories,
and to accept the healing that you offer.

(Silence)

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

The Second Candle

In darkness we feel the stress of an overly busy season, of expectations that are hard to meet, of claims on our time, resources and energy. We light this candle for faith.

With faith, Mary and Joseph set out in obedience to an imperial decree, and in faith they accepted the most simple of lodgings for the birth of the Christ child.

Prayers of stress and faith

Loving God, give us a simple faith to get through difficulties.
We pray for all who find it difficult to face the celebration of Christmas.
Help us to say no to envy and discouragement, and to the expectations of others,
and to find peace and satisfaction in our own ways.

Dear God, we pray for those facing challenges
in employment, finances, health or relationships.
May we be assured of your longing for our security;
help us to put our trust in you, whatever our difficulties may be.

(Silence)

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

The Third Candle

In darkness, we feel the pain of uncertainty, disruption in families, inequities in a troubled world. We light this candle for hope.

To humble shepherds came the promise of a Saviour and peace on earth. They made haste to see this thing and to make known abroad the hope they had been given.

Prayers of uncertainty and hope

Loving God, we turn to you when life seems so uncertain and unfair.
We pray for those who have lost some of the comforting familiar things
in their lives: a job, a home or family support.
Help us to see hope in new circumstances,
and help us to have patience to accept change.

Dear God, we pray for those who have suffered a loss of health
or for whom daily life is becoming more difficult or painful.
May they be comforted and trust in the renewing power of your spirit.

(Silence)

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

The Fourth Candle

In darkness we feel the burden of loneliness, the sense that no one can share our pain. We light this candle for love.

The love that is shown by Christ in His coming into this troubled world, His healing and teaching, and the forgiveness he offered, even on the cross.

Prayers of loneliness and love

Loving God be with us in our loneliness.
Give us wisdom to see one another’s sorrows,
and to comfort one another.
Give us the clarity to see those around us who are willing to help us.

Dear God, we pray for all those we love,
and we thank you for love in our lives.
We ask forgiveness for those times when we have been hurtful rather than loving,
in families, the church or relationships.
We pray for all those who live a life of love to ease the loneliness of others,
those who minister to the sick and dying,
the homeless and hungry and those in prisons.
We thank you in all things for the greatest gift of love to us all,
as revealed in your Son Jesus Christ.

(Silence)

Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

A Reading from the Gospel of John 1:1-5, 9-12

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.
All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing
came into being. What has come into being in him was life,
and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it. The true light,
which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
He was in the world, and the world came into being through him;
yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him,
who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.

Heavenly Father,
You make the Christmas season radiant
with the splendour of your son Jesus Christ our light.
Help us to welcome him as Lord, the true light of the world,
and bring us to eternal joy in the kingdom of heaven.
We ask this through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hymn: Comfort, comfort ye my people

Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak ye peace: thus saith our God.
Comfort those who sit in darkness bowed beneath oppression’s load;
speak ye to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them:
tell her that her sins I cover, and her warfare now is over.

Hark! The herald’s voice is calling in the desert far and near,
calling us to new repentance since the reign of God is here.
Oh, that warning cry obey! Now prepare for Christ a way;
let the valleys rise to meet him, and the hills bow down to greet him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked; make the rougher places plain.
Let your hearts be true and humble as befits Messiah’s reign.
For the glory of the Lord now o’er earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token that God’s Word is never broken.

The Advent Blessing and Dismissal

Be steadfast in faith, joyful in hope, and untiring in love all the days of your life;
and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.


“Wounded in Spirit:
Advent Art and Meditations”
by David Bannon (Author),
Philip Yancey (Foreword) 


An Advent Service for those who Grieve
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