United Church of Christ

Into the Mystic: The Longest Night

May the coming of the light help ease the pain, sadness, anxiety and grief many feel during this season.

There was a time when all of our daily rhythms were governed by the light of day. With no electricity, when the daylight was out we were up; and when the night fell so did we – asleep.

We built temples to the sun. We told stories of monsters that came out in the dark. Archeologists have told us that many of the great archeological sites were built to mark the place of the sun at the summer solstice – the longest day of the year.

We knew without calendar or clock that at some point, something would shift. Nights that had been growing longer shifted and the sun would return on its slow path north and the days would begin to lengthen.

Last week, I spoke about how the Church adapted an old pagan ritual that celebrated this return of the light as the metaphorical equivalent of the coming of the Christ child.

This week, I talk about another tradition associated with this moment in each year: the longest night commemoration or, as some have come to call it – the Blue Christmas service.

On one side of the longest night, we celebrate the return of the light

On this side of the longest night, we acknowledge the presence of pain, sadness, anxiety, and grief we all carry.

We live with both joy and sadness. Faith as we know it doesn’t promise that we will only know happiness with God – only that God will not abandon us in the shadowed valleys. In fact, what we have come to experience with our sacred is that in those valleys the presence of God matters.

“Yea, though I walk through the valleys of the shadows of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Blue Christmas services have become a part of my annual walk towards the celebration of the birth of Jesus. Whether it is my own pain and grief that needs to be acknowledged, or a recognition that the world we live in must articulate its own cry in the midst of the enormity of suffering it endures, this service speaks to me deeply.

We tend to focus on the Christmas season as a time of great joy. And for many that is exactly what it is.

Others face what used to be the time to gather with loved ones as a time of loneliness and suffering – sitting at a table without the one that made it special for them in the past. Divorce or disease or death can invade the rooms where once joy was abundant – and holidays like this one serve to remind us of what we no longer have.

For all those who suffer through this time, for whom the longest night and its interminable darkness have become the metaphor for the living of their days, we pause to recognize both the pain they live with and the presence of one whose rod and staff, they comfort us.

May joy abound for us all – and when it doesn’t may there be recognition of another’s suffering the accompaniment of a Creator whose unbounded love heals all wounds on this, our journey Into the Mystic.


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