The Longest Night service — along with the similar “Blue Christmas” service — is a tradition in the church that seems especially relevant this year. It’s a service traditionally held on the winter solstice — the shortest day and longest night of the year — to recognize that the holidays are not a joyful time for everyone, to make space for the feelings of grief and loneliness and longing we may be carrying, and to proclaim that Christ is every bit as present in the darkness as in the light and celebration.
There are probably many more slickly produced versions of this service available online, especially this year. But here’s my humble offering — a simple little service of song, scripture, and poetry at sunset in my backyard with some candles and a smoky little fire. May it be a moment of peace and blessing for those who could use it.
You can follow along with the service in the digital bulletin here, or to make it even easier, here it is below.
Monday, December 21, 2020
Longest Night / Blue Christmas
While Advent is a season of hope and Christmas is a season of joy, not everyone always feels hopeful or like celebrating. Grief, illness, aging, depression, loneliness, unemployment, and loss are magnified around this time of year. Even those who are not directly struggling with losses probably feels the stress of preparations and expectations around Christmas time.
And this year especially, all of us have been left grieving in some way in the wake of this pandemic: grieving the loss of people we care about, losses of health, losses of employment, the loss of our sense of normalcy and safety, the loss of a season of celebration to spend as we would like with the people dearest to us.
The hope of this service is to provide a time of solace and space to grieve during the often frenetic days surrounding the celebration of Christmas. We come together seeking healing and room to share grief, sadness, loneliness, or confusion when these emotions often feel out of place during the holidays.
In the Northern Hemisphere, December 21 is the longest night, the winter solstice. It marks the shortest day of the year, the official start of winter. Tradition says that nature and all her creatures stop and hold their breath to see if the sun will turn back from its wanderings, if the days will lengthen and the earth will once again feel the sun’s warmth. On this darkest day of the year, we come before God with our honest yearnings seeking the return of light and hope.
Lighting the Advent Wreath
Hymn: Light One Candle to Watch for Messiah (ELW 240, vs 4)
Light four candles to watch for Messiah: let the light banish darkness. He is coming, tell the glad tidings. Let your lights be shining!
From the one who was, who is, and who is to come: Grace and peace be with you all.
And also with you.
Let us pray.
Holy God, our light and our hope, the night is long and our hearts are weary. We trust in your presence; help us to find you as we reach for you in the darkness. We cry out for your dawn to illumine our lives, to lift the shadows of our sin and struggle and sorrow – those long shadows cast by sickness, division, loss, loneliness, and death. May the light of your love shine on this community, our nation, our world, and your whole creation. Hear our prayers, O God, and heal our hearts, through the one for whom we wait, Jesus Christ.
Hymn: Lost in the Night (ELW 243)
Lost in the night do the people yet languish, longing for morning the darkness to vanquish, plaintively sighing with hearts full of anguish. Will not day come soon? Will not day come soon? Must we be vainly awaiting the morrow? Shall those who have lights no light let us borrow, giving no heed to our burden of sorrow? Will you help us soon? Will you help us soon? Sorrowing wand’rers in darkness yet dwelling, dawned has the day of a radiance excelling, death’s deepest shadows forever dispelling. Christ is coming soon! Christ is coming soon! Light o’er the land of the needy is beaming; rivers of life through its deserts are streaming, bringing all peoples a Savior redeeming. Come and save us soon! Come and save us soon!
Hear my cry, O God;
listen to my prayer.
From the end of the earth I call to you,
when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
that is higher than I;
for you are my refuge,
a strong tower against the enemy.
Let me abide in your tent forever,
find refuge under the shelter of your wings.
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.
Prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generations!
May he be enthroned forever before God;
appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!
So I will always sing praises to your name,
as I pay my vows day after day.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me
to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
they shall stumble and fall.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
and to inquire in his temple.
For he will hide me in his shelter
in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
be gracious to me and answer me!
“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
Do not hide your face from me.
Do not turn your servant away in anger,
you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me,
the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Hymn: Shepherd Me, O God (ELW 780)
Refrain Shepherd me, O God, beyond my wants, beyond my fears, from death into life.
Poem for reflection: “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers. Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - over and over announcing your place in the family of things.
Silence for reflection
Confession / Grief Offering
(for this prayer activity, it is good to have some paper and a writing utensil — or you may simply wish to light a candle or candles in memory)
Hymn: Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming (ELW 272)
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung! Of Jesse’s lineage coming as seers of old have sung, it came, a flow’r so bright, amid the cold of winter, when half-spent was the night. Isaiah had foretold it, the rose I have in mind; with Mary we behold it, the virgin mother kind. To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior, when half-spent was the night. This flow’r, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispels with glorious splendor the darkness ev’rywhere. True man, yet very God, from sin and death he saves us and lightens ev’ry load. O Savior, child of Mary, who felt our human woe; O Savior, king of glory, who dost our weakness know: bring us at length, we pray, to the bright courts of heaven and into endless day.
May you find comfort and even joy this season. And may the peace of Christ, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Go in peace. Christ the Savior is with you.
Thanks be to God.