The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
It is one of my favorite services of the year, even though there are typically only about a dozen of us gathered for worship. I can cry a bit, and it isn’t a distraction for those gathered … most are crying with me. We sing a couple of hymns a capella … and it doesn’t matter that we struggle musically to pull them off. We light some candles … and they are real candles. We receive anointing for healing … and I have the opportunity to kneel at the rail, also. We hear some Biblical words of strength and assurance … we have a few moments of silence … and the simplicity of the liturgy allows the pain we bring to be honored. It is our Darkest Night Service, that we observe each year on the Sunday before Christmas Eve. There are a number of similar services held in the month of December … most call them “Blue Christmas” services. I think of Elvis Presley when I read the moniker, so we have stuck with The Darkest Night, since we are typically worshiping within a few days of the winter solstice, the longest (and thus darkest) night of the year.
The service offers a brief respite from the “happy, happy, joy, joy” spirit that characterizes the Christmas season. Most of us gathered want to embrace that joy and happiness, too. We simply also need to acknowledge that there is loss in our lives, which demands to be acknowledged. We can do both, of course. After all, the joy found in the manger cannot be fully appreciated without also acknowledging the destination to which the manger points … the cross of Calvary on Good Friday. Bethlehem is significant because Golgatha stands off-stage ready to become part of the divine drama. Jesus birth is adored, because we know also that he is born to die. In short, you cannot embrace the Christmas story without knowing the Easter story. There is not purpose to Christmas without Easter. The Darkest Night service seeks to intentionally wrap those two theological and human realities together, and to allow our penultimate joys and sorrows to find meaning in the ultimate story of death and new life.
So six days from now, as we celebrate five worship services on Christmas Eve, four of which I will be privileged to lead along with others, I will sing “O Come, All Ye Faithful” with gusto, and recall with a smile the events that transpire because of the enrollment commanded by Quirinius … because I have also had the privilege of glancing ahead to the crucifixion this baby will endure later in his life. The world may not embrace this three-dimensional message, but the Christian does, and The Darkest Night service does so in spades.
So in your prayer life this week, why not take a moment to consider the pain and loss that also characterize this Christmas season, if not directly for the Lucan Christmas story, then from the humanness of your life. Give thanks for a baby that will grow into the understanding of his unique role in resolving that pain, and give yourself permission to engage the places in your life than may not be as joyous in the moment as they may be a few years from now.