The observance of the longest night of the year, when we acknowledge the darkest of days and anticipate the light to come, makes space in worship for people for whom the Advent season surfaces grief as well as hopeful anticipation. Some of us approach Christmas with sadness because we miss a loved one who has died, or we are part of a family experiencing the trauma of illness or divorce. Statistics show that a rise in depression is common during the winter, and it is particularly prevalent during the holidays. And this year all of us have been exposed to the chaos of mass shootings, civil unrest at home and abroad, and new kinds of warfare that make us especially aware of the world’s darkness into which Christ is born.
The Longest Night Service this coming Monday, December 21, at 7:00 p.m. in the beautifully decorated sanctuary is offered for all who would like to lift up to God their grief, fear and uncertainty with prayers for a brighter tomorrow. The service, not quite an hour long, is filled with comforting words of scripture, a brief meditation, the singing of carols, and an opportunity to light candles to illumine the darkness in memory of a loved one or as a participatory form of prayer for any burden you may carry for yourself, for another, or for the world yearning for the light that shines in the darkness.
We repurpose the Advent Wreath on the Longest Night in a way that gives you an idea of how we pray for God’s light to enter every form of darkness. Here is a preview of that part of our worship liturgy offered in response to the scripture and meditation:
LITANY OF REMEMBERING
One: This first candle we light to remember those whom we have loved and lost. We pause to remember their names, their faces, their voices, the memory that binds us to them in life and in death, and even in this season of Advent.
All: O God, may your eternal love and peace surround them. (silence)
One: This second candle we light to redeem the pain of loss; the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health. We pause to gather up the pain of the past and offer it to God, asking that from God’s hands we receive the gift of peace.
All: Refresh and renew us, O God, and lead us into a future of hope. (silence)
One: The third candle we light to remember ourselves this Christmastime. We pause to remember the moments of disbelief, emptiness, anger, the sadness. We acknowledge the misplaced priorities, the hurt, the addictions. We give thanks for family and friends who stood with us, grateful for the care we have felt and support we have known.
All: May the dawn defeat the night, and light defeat darkness. (silence)
One: The fourth candle we light to remember God’s promises and the gift of peace and hope which the Christmas story offers the world. We are a world at war, and yet we know that in Christ, God shares our humanity, knows pain and suffering, and leads us to new life. We remember the promises of God to bend the instruments of war into farming tools, and to provide abundant life for all.
All: Jesus Christ, show us the way, and increase our faith that the darkness of this world will not overcome your light. (silence)
One: The light shines in the darkness.
All: And the darkness will not overcome it.
Together, we will listen for the “light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in his wings” and place our concerns in the arms of our compassionate God. I invite you to come if this sounds like a service that would be meaningful to you. I encourage you to invite others for whom this service might offer comfort. Some people come with longing hearts, some for the contemplative beauty because they cannot be with us on Christmas Eve, some for just another opportunity to worship God in silence, song and candlelight, some to hear a word of hope for broken world. Everyone who loves this service, including myself, finds it an amazing experience of God’s grace and peace.