What a joy and privilege it is to plan worship services at this lovely time of the year. I love the way the sanctuary is decorated over a period of time with increasing beauty for the Sundays of Advent, culminating in the coming Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve. First the wreaths on the doors, then the garland and center aisle candles, then the poinsettias in their full glory. The growing array of color matches the increasing intensity of the joyful and hopeful expectation Christmas brings.
One of my favorite Christmas services has become the Longest Night Service, which will be midweek this year on Wednesday, Dec. 21, at 7:00 p.m. in the Sanctuary. The Longest Night Service has roots in ancient festivals at the Winter Solstice when people observed the longest night of the year with prayers for the coming lengthening of days.
At church we now observe the longest night by acknowledging that amid all the joy, the holidays are also difficult for some: people who have lost a loved one whom they especially miss during the year; people for whom the winter can bring sadness or depression; and people especially worried about the darkness in a world filled with so much violence, uncertainty and unrest.
At the Longest Night Service we hear readings of comfort, we sing lovely Advent hymns and Christmas carols, and we invite people to light candles as a form of participatory prayer. We break the darkness by welcoming the light of Christ, as the carol reminds us… Light and life to all he brings, risen with healing in his wings.
The Longest Night Service can also serve as a travelers’ service for church members who may be away on Christmas Eve and who would enjoy an evening service in our beautiful, candle illumed Sanctuary singing carols. Come to this service of hope and healing if you think it might be meaningful to you. Invite others to join you if you think the service could carry meaning for them. Come if you are traveling and will be away on Christmas Eve. Come if you are simply curious to see how we observe the longest night of the year in reverence.
Together in prayer and praise we will remember how God’s light is more powerful than any darkness, even in our darkest days.