Longest Night Christmas Service Thursday, December 21 7:00pm
"I heard the bells on Christmas day Their old familiar carols play And mild and sweet their songs repeat Of peace on Earth, good will to men ... And in despair I bowed my head "There is no peace on Earth," I said 'For hate is strong, And mocks the song Of peace on earth, good-will to men!' ..."
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
This tension between the opening and then the middle of the poem-turned-Christmas carol by Henry Longfellow* captures what many of us know all too well.
In the words of Methodist Pastor Ben Gosden, "The Christmas season is often marked by expressions of joy, excitement, and happiness. It’s a time for family to gather and for churches to worship pointing to the hope that is found in the coming of the Christ child. However, this time of joy and expectation can often overshadow the pain and hurt many experience during this season, when the world's merriment puts [our] grief and sorrow in stark relief."
Perhaps it is because you have lost a loved one. Or you are otherwise not able to be with those you love. Perhaps you are in the middle of difficult, or even painful, life circumstances.
It is good to sing of "Peace" and "Joy" during the Christmas season. But it is also good to acknowledge the tension; that even as we sing and celebrate the peace and joy we receive at the coming of our Savior, that peace and that joy can still feel far off. When the days grow short and the nights grow longer, the season can mirror the reality of our hearts and lives. And it is ok to acknowledge this truth; in fact it is good and God-honoring to acknowledge this truth. For this is the reality into which Jesus has come.
The Longest Night Service is a Christmas Service, but it is a Christmas Service that acknowledges this truth through song, scripture, and prayer. Through the lighting of candles, we will have opportunity to acknowledge the peace we long for: remembering those we miss and without whom the holidays are never the same, and offering to God the difficulties that the holidays can bring in a world where the reality of relationships and life situations - whatever that may be in your life - can sometimes "mock the song" of peace and joy...
...And we will hear and sing again of the Savior who was born into this very world of longing and desperate hope; and who promises to be gentle with all of us no matter how long the night, and until the dawning of the new day.
*Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the poem on Christmas Day 1863 after hearing of his oldest son being severely wounded serving in the Union Army during the Civil War, just two years after the tragic death of his second wife in a fire. The poem very intimately explores the tension between the "peace" proclaimed by the angels in Luke 2:14 on the one hand; and, on the other, both Henry Longfellow's personal peace that was shaken to its core at the death of his wife, and the community peace broken by the war ravaging the country.