(This is a transcript of the Dec. 20 Blue Christmas Service, The Long Night, a service for those experiencing pain, loss or loneliness during the Christmas season.)
Silent Night piano performance by Rod Murrow
All around us, lights are lit and carols play. The season heaps joy upon us. Yet, we who come here carry more than joy, we carry loss, worry, grief, and pain. We come weary, seeking rest from expectations. We also seek a holy presence to be with us. We come here by the resilient grace of God’s love that never lets us go.
Let us pray:
Loving God, hear our prayer in this Advent season for ourselves and for our families who live with painful thoughts and memories. We ask for strength for today, courage for tomorrow and peace for the past. We ask these things in the name of your Christ, who shares our life in joy and sorrow, death and new birth, despair and promise. Amen.
Isaiah 9:1-4: The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; on those who live in a land of deep shadow, a light has shone. For the yoke that was weighing upon them, and the burden upon their shoulders, you have broken in pieces, 0 God, our Redeemer.
Song: O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
Lighting of Advent Candles
We light our first candle, a single light that the deepest darkness cannot conquer – small, insignificant – but a sign of hope. Let it speak to us of the tiny flame of hope within us – the stubborn little light that refuses to be extinguished by all that life throws at us.
Reading – Blessing for the Longest Night (1st half)
Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief by Jan Richardson
Blessing for the Longest Night
All throughout these months,
as the shadows have lengthened,
this blessing has been gathering itself,
making ready, preparing for this night.
It has practiced walking in the dark,
traveling with its eyes closed,
feeling its way by memory,
by the pull of the moon
even as it wanes.
So believe me when I tell you
this blessing will reach you,
even if you have not light enough
to read it;
it will find you, even though
you cannot see it coming.
We light our second candle, witnessing to hope that another light brings. Let it speak to us of the lights of companionship – of our families, our friends, of strangers, and kindnesses found in unexpected places that restored our hope in human nature.
Reading – Blessing for the Longest Night (2nd half)
You will know the moment of its arriving
by your release of the breath
you have held so long;
a loosening of the clenching in your hands,
of the clutch around your heart;
a thinning of the darkness
that had drawn itself around you.
This blessing does not mean
to take the night away,
but it knows its hidden roads,
knows the resting spots along the path,
knows what it means
to travel in the company of a friend.
So when this blessing comes,
take its hand. Get up.
Set out on the road
you cannot see.
This is the night when you can trust
that any direction you go,
you will be walking
toward the dawn.
We light our third candles, recalling nights of watching and waiting – sleepless, anxious – when dawn seemed to ebb further from the horizon and hope seemed forlorn. Let it speak to us of the sureness of morning – of the passing of darkness of suffering – and the promise of an eternal sunrise dawning for those we have loved and lost, and dawning too for us – though we may yet be in that darkest hour before dawn.
Reading – Blessing of Hope
Blessing of Hope
So may we know the hope
that is not just for someday
but for this day ---
Here, now, in this moment
that opens to us;
Hope not made of wishes
but of substance,
Hope made of sinew
Hope that has breath
and a beating heart,
Hope that will not
and be polite,
Hope that knows
how to holler
when it is called for,
Hope that knows
how to sing
when there seems
Hope that raises us
from the dead ---
but this day,
We light our fourth candle. Let it speak to us of hope, of being together in this place of healing and wholeness, of our companionship this night at the turning of the year, of faith that we and those we have loved and lost are held eternally in the hand of the One who brought light into being, and who knows each one of us by name.
Song: O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thy justice here; disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadows put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
May God bless you and keep you. May the healing light of God’s presence shine upon you and give you the strength and hope you need to sustain you through this night and in the days to come. Amen.
Away in a Manger piano performance by Rod Morrow