I led a Longest Night Service on Winter Solstice at my church last year.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4
The Longest Night Service or Blue Christmas is held on the Winter Solstice to temper the struggle with darkness and grief faced by those living with loss, separation, or illness. The service coincides with the traditional feast day for Saint Thomas the Apostle.
Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
And so we invite each other to this time of peaceful worship. Flee for a while from your tasks. Hide yourself for a little space from the turmoil of your thoughts. Come, cast aside your burdensome cares and put aside your laborious pursuits. Give your time to God, and rest in God for a little while.
Much of the liturgy I borrowed from a pdf I found online from Palo Cristi Presbyterian Church. I already have ideas for next year!
It was a calm, quiet, casual service. No standing, no greeting. No wishing anyone “Merry Christmas.”
The lights were dim.
About 25 people worshiped together on the longest night of the year.
Our pastor welcomed everyone.
Her husband played guitar.
Our music director played piano.
My middle daughters were acolytes and lit the altar candles.
I began with a poem, First Coming by Madeleine L’Engle.
He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.
He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait
till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.
We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!
HYMN: It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
CLAIMING A PLACE OF SAFETY
One: This night is ours.
All: Here we find refuge from bright lights, holiday songs, celebrations, and the expectations of everyone around us.
One: In this safe place, we can admit our pain, our loss, our fears, and no one will judge us.
All: No one will tell us to be happy or merry. No one will think less of us because we cannot celebrate this season. Above all, no one will find our tears inconvenient or inappropriate.
One: Here, we can pour our hearts out honestly and claim our own kind of meaning from this season.
All: Here, we are welcome even if we’re cynical, even if we’re angry, even if we scoff at the mention of hope and meaning.
One: Tonight, we can be where we are. We do not need to hide or pretend or feel guilty, even if our grief, our pain, our anger seems ugly to the world.
All: We can release our need to please others and be ourselves.
One: Let us be at peace.
All: We are safe here. We are accepted here. There are no demands.
One: Let us be sanctuary for one another.
All: We say to each other: Lay your burdens here. Cast your sorrows into the circle of light. Bask in the warmth that is life.
One: We say to each other: There is more to life than pain. There is more to life than sorrow. Wait for it. Watch for it. Welcome it.
This evening we confess that we are profoundly in need of God’s mercy, so let us sing “Kyrie Eleison,” the Greek words meaning “Lord, have mercy.”
SUNG CONFESSION: Kyrie Eleison
One: Signs of celebration surround us.
All: What can we celebrate?
One: Here. Now. We can only celebrate and embrace this moment. This breath. Even if it hurts.
All: There is breath. There is life. Each new moment we breathe this air, there is hope of unexpected comfort, joy, and love.
One: We are precious. Every breath we take is significant and a victory. Our being and Our lives are the greatest and most irreplaceable treasure.
All: Even when life is filled with pain, it is a miracle worthy of awe and reverence.
One: There is a miracle to celebrate on this dark and quiet night. It is within us.
All: Our eyes see the stars of the night sky. Our lips form words of comfort and truth. Our feet carry us where we bid them. Our backs bear our burdens until we can put them down. Each courageous act is a triumph.
One: We are privileged to live out our lives surrounded by everyday wonders:
All: Trees and their dappled shade, birds and their varied songs, blue skies and changing clouds;
One: Thunderstorms and sea breezes, mugs of hot coffee or tea, music, afternoon naps,
All: hot baths and hot showers, good-smelling soaps,
One: the Milky Way, and warm smiles from strangers,
All: And every day the pale creeping dawn signals new beginning. Each day the commonplace is miraculous.
One: We are not alone. Isolation is a myth and a lie.
All: There are thousands of people, hundreds of thousands of people, who tonight are one with us in our questions and doubts.
One: Some are in this room. Some we cannot see or touch. But the human bond is there nonetheless.
All: Hundreds of thousands of people whose simple existence makes each of us stronger,
One: A human community where we can comfort and serve each other.
All: Even in the face of sorrow we can find sources of hope and reasons to rejoice we can share that hope and that joy with each other.
One: We can put our arms around each other in unity and understanding.
All: We are not alone.
GATHERING HYMN: Wait for the Lord by Taizé
Two of our church leaders and my teen daughter read these.
Luke 14:15-24: This story offers hope for those who have no one to invite them. It reminds us that in God’s divine order, no one is excluded-all are invited.
Matthew 11:28-29: When burdens get piled on top of other burdens, the load can crush us. In his promise, Jesus offers us help to carry our burdens and responsibilities.
Revelation 7:15-17: Our present world is not how God wants things to be. Those who weep now will not weep later. In this new heaven and new earth, there will be no more need for tears.
HYMN: O Come, Emmanuel #123
My four children did this part so beautifully.
We light four candles tonight. We light one for our grief, one for our courage, one for our memories, and one for our love.
Reader 1: This candle represents our grief. We own the pain of losing loved ones, of dreams that go unfulfilled, of hopes that evaporate in despair.
Reader 2: This candle represents our courage. It symbolizes the courage to confront our sorrow, to comfort each other, to share our feelings honestly and openly with each other, and to dare to hope in the midst of pain.
Reader 3: This candle represents our memories. For the times we laughed together, cried together, were angry with each other or overjoyed with each other. We light this candle for the memories of caring and joy we shared together.
Reader 4: This candle represents our love. The love we have given, and the love we have received. The love that has gone unacknowledged and unfelt, and the love that has been shared in times of joy and sorrow.
Leader: You are now invited to come forward to light one of the tealight candles which represents your burdens, griefs, sorrows, all those things that make Christmas a “blue” time for you.
Leader: We now light the Christ candle, remembering that Jesus Christ is always in the center of our lives. He hears our cries, he knows our hearts and, in the midst of all our thoughts and emotions, he offers us hope and healing.
Comforting God, wrap us in your presence in this time of remembrance.
With these candles, help us find your light, a light that will guide us day by day, step by step, as we try to live life fully and whole.
We cherish the special ways in which we have been touched by our loved ones.
We thank you for the gift their lives have been to us. Now comfort us, encourage us, and empower us. AMEN.
HYMN: In the Bleak Midwinter
HOMILY by Jennifer Lambert
I am a failure.
I’ve failed at so many things.
I’ve failed at school, at work, as a friend, as a wife, as a mom, in my community, as a Christian.
I imagine most people can relate to failing at some point.
During the holidays, many of us feel like a failure.
All the lights, music, decorations, events, celebrations are overwhelming.
It can make one’s mouth hurt to constantly speak with such forced merriment.
I don’t have Pinterest-worthy decorations. I get overwhelmed making homemade meals and treats all season-long. I can’t buy all the gifts for all the people on my list. It’s a comparison trap, looking over my shoulder, on social media at what others are doing, making, buying that seem better, more meaningful, more memorable.
I need more time, more energy, more money.
Or I do I need to just change my expectations?
Most failure is because of failed expectations.
Mary was a failure.
Mary was pregnant before her wedding to Joseph. In any time period, that is scandalous.
Her pregnancy was unexpected. She was an unexpected bride. She lived an unexpected life.
Did Mary feel like a failure as a wife?
She delivered her firstborn son in a stable. Suddenly, unexpectedly. Was she scared? Was she disappointed at those conditions?
She later witnessed her firstborn son ridiculed, beaten, crucified, dead, buried.
Did Mary feel like a failure as a mother?
Joseph was a failure.
Joseph wanted to quietly divorce Mary when he found out she was already pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father. Joseph followed through after the angel commanded him to take Mary as his bride anyway.
Joseph traveled to Bethlehem with a very pregnant Mary for the census. He couldn’t find a room for her to stay in, much less to give birth in.
How uncomfortable must that journey have been? I’ve had 4 traumatic birth experiences, but in a stable?
Did Joseph panic?
Did Joseph feel ashamed?
He knowingly entered into a blended family.
Did Joseph feel like a failure as a husband and stepfather?
Jesus was a failure.
Born in a stable.
Exiled to Egypt.
Living in obscurity as a carpenter.
Rising as an unexpected leader.
Nathanael claimed: “Nothing good can come out of Nazareth.”
Jesus was supposed to rescue the Jews from the Romans. He wasn’t the king they were expecting.
The Jews rejected Jesus as the Messiah. Even though He fulfilled prophecy, Jesus’ radical teachings and ways were unexpected. He shook the bureaucracy.
Then Jesus was arrested, tortured, crucified, killed, buried.
He rose from the grave, but still they struggled to understand.
Jesus was a failure because He didn’t fulfill human expectations.
And yet He loves us because we know not what we do.
Who has seen the new Star Wars movie? No spoilers, but I love this line:
Failure is our greatest learning.
We can’t avoid failure. But what do we do with it? Do we mope and wallow in the negativity, beating ourselves up, refusing to try again?
We must learn from our failures.
When we are weak, He is strong. In our failure, He is magnified and glorified.
We must realize our potential,
and learn our purpose.
It’s one thing for others to see your potential. It’s quite another for you to understand and see potential in yourself.
We must have courage to fail and have peace with ourselves and others. We must forgive ourselves and others. We must learn to apologize and make amends to heal relationships with others. We have to learn to let go of hurts.
Growth is painful. We must pray to realize our purpose, even if it’s unexpected. We must stop striving to be someone else, listening to those inner voices telling us we’re not good enough. Looking ahead and planning is good, but let’s not lose sight of the blessings and opportunities right in front of us, in this moment.
Being a student is enough. Being a spouse is enough. Being a parent is enough.
You are enough.
Pray with me:
May God bless us with discomfort at half-truths, easy answers, and superficial relationships, so that we will live deeply and from the heart.
May God bless us with righteous anger at injustice, oppression, and the exploitation of people, so that we will work for justice, freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears to shed for those in pain, so that we will reach out our hands to them and turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with just enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this old world, so that we will do those unexpected things that others say cannot be done.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.
Stay with us, Lord, for it is evening, and the day is almost over.
Let your light scatter the darkness and illumine your people. Amen.
LORICA OF ST. PATRICK
L: I arise today
C: Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity
Through belief in the threeness
Through confession of the Oneness
Towards the creator.
L: I arise today
C: Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s host to secure me.
L: I arise today
C: Through the strength of Christ with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension
Through the strength of his descent for the Judgment of doom.
L: Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
C: Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
L: Christ on my right, Christ on my left
C: Christ where I lie, Christ where I sit, Christ where I arise
L: Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
C: Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
L: Christ in every eye that sees me,
C: Christ in every ear that hears me.
L: Salvation is of the Lord
C: Salvation is of the Lord
L: Salvation is of Christ
C: May thy salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.
HYMN: Silent Night #147
One: Let us face the trials of a bright season with an inner calm because we know there are deeper meanings.
All: We have looked into the pool of suffering and we have not lost all hope. Let that knowledge strengthen us.
One: When we are overcome with despair, let us be glad of our improbable existence and be content to wait for the next moment and the possibility it brings for unexpected joy.
All: For a little space of time, we have laid our burdens down. For a little space of time, we have cast our sorrows into the circle of light. For as long as we are able, we will bask in the warmth that is life.
One: These candles will flutter and burn out sending the room into darkness, but our hearts contain a more powerful flame.
All: In our hearts burns life, complex and difficult, in all its uniqueness and mystery.
One: We carry hope into the world simply by carrying on, helping others, and living our lives as best we can.
All: Even on the darkest nights when all we can do is curl up and weep, the ember of life is in us, burning intensely.
One: That radiance is more brilliant than any holiday decoration; it is more enduring than any loss; it is a flame worth protecting, worth fighting for.
All: Let us nurture that warmth and life in us.
One: Let us go into a cold winter night and warm its air even slightly with our breath as we go. Let us pass from this safe place, knowing that we carry sanctuary in us.
All: In the coolness of the night, we will walk in peace. In the quiet of the starlight, we will walk with hope. In the company of all life, we will do our best to love.
One: Go forth! Breathe in the crisp air, feel your feet upon the earth, know you are in good company. Nurture the ember that glows inside you, for it is robust and will give you strength.
All: So be it. So we will go.