At the time of my writing this, the winter solstice was last night. On the longest night of year, dusk happened at 4:15pm, and the sun rose this morning at 7:26am. That's a long time to wait for the sun to shine and for warmth to hit the earth again.
In the church world, what often happens on the longest night are Blue Christmas services, which are services that acknowledge the losses and grief some of us carry. Christmas can be hard for many-- especially those who will have empty seats at their tables and in their gatherings with family this year. I know in my family, we have a total of 4 empty places just from this year alone. I also think of those 800,000 families who have lost loved ones to covid-19.
If you are someone who has experienced loss and is carrying the heavy weight of grief during this season, please know that we see you, and we love you.
Because of the challenges that come with ministry these days, we weren't able to pull together a Blue Christmas service, but I did want to at least offer you an at-home liturgy to reflect on. The resources below come A Sanctified Art, which has provided our Close to Home series materials. As you work through this home devotion, I hope it brings you comfort and a sense of peace in this time. The longest night is a night filled with darkness, but that darkness is SO incredibly sacred. Just as the arrival of God into our midst happened late in the dark night of Christmas eve, we have faith that God will show up in the sacred darkness of your life too.
Longest Night At-hOME dEVOTION tIME
Materials Needed: 3 candles, writing utensil, paper, bible, a device you can use to play music
Step 1: Listen
Get into a worshipful mindset by listening to a favorite version of Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel. If you don't have a favorite, you can listen to mine :)
Step 2: Read this poetic reflection by Sarah Are Speed (from A Sanctified Art)
We are raw nerves, exposed and tender.
We are weary bones, hunched and fragile.
We are silent prayers, lips saying your name.
We are wedding rings we can’t take off, even though time has passed.
We are the same pew, but it feels different now.
We are a brave face when we have to be strong.
We are tears in the shower when grief roars its head.
We are setting the table, but there are empty seats.
We are stuck in the swell, caught in the storm.
We are moving on, caught in our guilt.
We are okay some days, but some days we’re not.
We are familiar with the night, we know it by name.
We are night-walkers, dream-makers, star-chasers.
We are close to home, but home has changed.
We are close to the surface, but the waters are rising.
We are all of this, plus everything else, and we are here.
We are here.
Grief is here.
God is here.
The night is here.
And all of this is true,
and we are not alone.
Take my hand.
Take these words.
Let them be your life raft.
Let this be the longest night,
and let it be
whatever you need it to be.
We are here.
Grief is here.
God is here.
Take what you need.
Step 3: Listen
Listen to your favorite version of In the Bleak Midwinter. Again, if you don't have one, here's a wonderful option:
Step 4: Take In God's Word
Read one or two of the following readings. Breath deeply as you do so, and listen to where God is speaking to you.
Isaiah 40: Written during the exile, when many of the Israelites were captives in a foreign land, this is a text of lament, asking for God’s comfort.
Lamentations 3:21-24: This passage is a prayer of honesty, both acknowledging individual pain while also declaring the choice to hope through tear-filled eyes.
John 14:27-28: This passage is a moving reminder from Jesus that there are different seasons of life and faith, but that God is always returning to us.
Psalm 121: This is a psalm of comfort and hope, reminding us that our help comes from God and that we never journey alone.
Step 5: Listen
Listen to this song by Barnaby Bright-- this song was written for the Close to Home theme. Here's a little story about where the song came from: “The Hurting Times” was written by the band Barnaby Bright (who wrote our Close to Home theme song), after hearing a story in worship at Village Presbyterian Church, in Prairie Village, KS. In his sermon that Sunday, Rev. Tom Are told a story of the way his grandmother used to say, “I wish I could give you my heart for the hurting times.” Inspired by these words, they wrote a song which became “The Hurting Times.” It is a powerful story of a love that would do anything for another. In many ways, it can remind us of how God grieves alongside us and feels all that we feel.
Step 6: Write & Pray
Use your paper and writing utensil to write down prayers that respond to these prompts:
Write five words that describe how you’re feeling in this moment.
Write down the names of people you carry in your heart today.
Write down one area of your own life where you could use God’s help, comfort, or guidance.
Write down a prayer for your faith journey.
Write down a prayer concern you have for our world.
Take a minute to write any lingering prayers you have at this moment.
Step 7: Light Candles
Having written down your prayers, it's time to ritualize the weight and significance of these prayers. Think of a person, incident, experience, or need in your life that you wish to lift up to God. Light a candle for each.