This year is nothing like we anticipated. Who would have guessed back in January at the turn of the calendar, we would be distancing from one another and learning to live our lives in new ways? Kathy Escobar’s newest book, A Weary World: Reflections for a Blue Christmas is balm for the soul in such a time as this. We have lost out on many opportunities this past year, had plans upended, and have forgone not seeing family for months at a time. If you have a loved one in a senior living community, you may still have not been able to give them a hug, settling for talking to them with a pane of glass separating you. This year, it may not sound unreasonable to say that everyone is probably carrying a bit of weariness in their hearts. There is a lot of lost which has occurred in the past year and to celebrate Christmas like nothing has happened, would be denying the reality that we witness in our neighbors, friends and family. The entire world is weary amid the pandemic and talking about it could begin the healing as we move forward.
For those that have participated in Blue Christmas services around the longest night of the year, it can be somber and also reassuring to know that you are not the only one suffering amid a time of year that the majority of people think must be joyful. To venture into the entire Advent season with these reflections could seem like a bit much. However, Escobar writes, “It’s about honoring our weary hearts in a weary season in a weary world and traveling the road of Advent together as honestly as we can on a quest for encouragement, hope, and strength in the places we are currently living—emotionally, spiritually, and physically.” She does suggest that if you are currently finding yourself in a moment of extreme happiness, joy, and everything seems to be coming to you, this is probably not the Advent devotional you are looking for. There are countless others to choose from that may not seem quite as in the gut.
The foundations of this book grew out of her own weariness and sorrows following the suicide of her son. They did not witness any of the signs that he may be considering suicide and it left her and her husband battered and bruised as they tried to move forward, while unsure of what the next day will bring. She dreaded the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas knowing that it would be difficult, yet she knew that she was not alone, and many people suffered during this time of year. Her experience as a Pastor had revealed many of these same situations to her and now it was her family personally experiencing it.
The structure of the book is similar to that of many devotionals you could read to guide your prayer time. It covers the four weeks of Advent, beginning on the first Sunday. Each week has a theme which shapes the week to come. These are themes that call the reader into action and interaction with those around them. The theme for the first week is “Honoring Reality.” If you are aware of the holidays bringing about sorrow instead of joy, it is helpful to acknowledge that reality of where you find yourself.
The following three weeks of Advent follow with “Practicing Honesty,” “Embracing Paradox,” and “Borrowing Hope.” These are all actions that we desire to live up to for ourselves and in our interactions with the greater community. Practicing, embracing, and borrowing are actions that we can commit to as we journey in Advent. The idea of “Borrowing Hope” is a reality that may require permission. When you come to times when you struggle with hope, where can you find it around you? Where can the littlest bit of hope fan the flame for your own hope? The practices that conclude each week invite the reader to explore their relationship with God and what it can mean in their lives.
The devotional concludes with Christmas Eve and resting in the knowledge of Emmanuel, “God with Us”. This may be a hard concept to grasp when you are struggling, yet through the four weeks of Advent, Escobar desires to encourage others in their own suffering. Just maybe, as Advent concludes and you find yourself on the cusp of Christmas Eve, this devotional will allow you to start seeing the sign of hope that was missing at the beginning of the Advent season.
This is not simply a devotional. Escobar also includes resources for family and friends and ministry leaders that can be used to assist others walking through a Blue Christmas season. Providing some great questions to ask, it can open the opportunity for others to share their story and create a stronger sense of care and community. There are also Blue Christmas resources located at the end of the book which would allow a worship community to shape their own Blue Christmas service if they do not have any experience of doing so in the past. One last resource for groups, along with those included weekly in the devotional, is the publisher providing downloads on their website to guide a group discussion.
While this devotional may not be for everyone, I believe everyone could relate to aspects of it as we have ventured through this past year of uncertainty and not knowing what was going to happen next. These are great discussions that we must have and ones that draw us closer to the Kindom of God.
Thanks to the Englewood Review of Books for allowing me to review this titled and the publisher, WJK, for providing a copy. The original review can be found here.