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 their grief and sorrow in start relief.
One of the greatest acts of pastoral care in the Advent season is to offer a service known as a Service of the Longest Night. It’s a worship service scheduled around the winter solstice (the longest night of the calendar year) and it just happens to fall on or around December 21st every year. As Dan Benedict notes: “it is also the traditional feast day for Saint Thomas the Apostle. This linkage invites making some connections between Thomas’s struggle to believe the tale of Jesus’ resurrection, the long nights just before Christmas, and the struggle with darkness and grief faced by those living with loss.”
This season is still the time God chooses to bring the world’s greatest hope into the very darkness of life that can seemingly weigh us down every day. There is, indeed, hope for those who live in darkness. But part of being encountered by that hope is telling the truth about those moments when we feel nothing but hopelessness. Maybe this year isn’t your year of feeling hopeless — maybe you’re ready for a holly jolly Christmas with all of the trimmings. But being Christian means thinking of others besides yourself. And being a Christian during Advent means being willing to stand in the darkness with others because that’s where Emmanuel promises to show up first. While Advent for many churches is little more than a pre-Christmas celebration with festive traditions and rituals, the Service of the Longest Night gives space for the real meaning of Advent — our saving hope promises to come as a light that our darkest moments cannot conquer.
Below is our order of worship for the Service of the Longest Night to be held on Sunday, Dec. 22nd at 5pm:
Words of Welcome
Call to Worship
Jesus said, “Come unto me all you who labor
and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”
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.
* Hymn No. 211
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (stanzas 1, 2, 6 and 7)
A Liturgy of Remembering and Lighting of the Advent Wreath
This first candle we light to remember
those whom we have loved and lost.
We remember their name, their face, their voice,
the memory that binds them to us in this season.
May God’s eternal love surround them.
This second candle we light to redeem the pain of loss;
the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs,
the loss of health.
We gather up the pain of the past and offer it to God,
asking that from God’s hands we receive the gift of peace.
Refresh, restore, renew us O God,
and lead us into your future.
This third candle we light to remember ourselves this Advent.
We remember these past weeks and months;
the disbelief, the anger, the poignancy of reminiscing,
the hugs and handshakes of family and friends,
all those who stood with us.
We give thanks for all the support we have known.
Let us remember that dawn defeats darkness.
This fourth candle we light to remember our faith
and the gift of hope which the Christmas story offers to us.
We remember that God who shares our life promises us
a place and time of no more pain and suffering.
Let us remember the one who shows the way,
who brings the truth and who bears the light.
Act of Praise
“We Shall Walk Through the Valley” arr. Burroughs
Responsive Reading from the Old Testament Psalm 121
I will lift up mine eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from God who made heaven and earth.
God will not suffer your foot to be moved.
The one who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold the one who keeps Israel shall not slumber or sleep.
The Holy one is your keeper.
The Holy one is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not hurt you by day nor the moon by night.
Our God shall preserve you from evil
and shall preserve your soul.
Our God shall preserve your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and even for evermore.
* Reading from the Gospel John 1:1-5
Meditation Rev. Ben Gosden
Hymn No. 230
“O Little Town of Bethlehem” (Stanzas 1 & 4)
Invitation to the Table
Christ our Lord invites to his table all who love him,
who earnestly repent of their sin
and seek to live in peace with one another.
Therefore, let us confess our sin before God and one another.
Confession and Pardon
we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.
We have failed to be an obedient church.
We have not done your will, we have broken your law,
we have rebelled against your love,
we have not loved our neighbors,
and we have not heard the cry of the needy.
Forgive us, we pray.
Free us for joyful obedience,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Hear the good news:
Christ died for us while we were yet sinners;
that proves God’s love for us.
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven.
Glory to God. Amen.
Let us offer one another signs of reconciliation and love.
The Great Thanksgiving
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
O God, you created the universe with a shout of joy,
a word of delight, and a big bang.
You made gravity holes and antimatter,
swirling electrons and dancing quarks,
shooting stars and sapphire blue planets.
You filled the ocean with clown fish and sharks,
with dolphins and killer whales.
You filled the air with doves and hawks
songbirds and hummingbirds.
You covered the land with shimmering aspen
and weathered pine.
And You blessed all the children of the earth
every shape and size, every color and complexion,
every makeup and mood, every style and substance.
When we walk through sorrow and chaos,
You are with us.
When we live through moments of war and acts of terror,
You walk with us.
When we face death and loss, loneliness and grief,
you stand with us and finally lead us home to you.
And so, with your people on earth
and all the company of heaven,
we praise Your name and join their unending hymn:
Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of your glory,
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
In the right time, in the fullness of your time,
In the nick of time, you sent your Son to bring us back to life.
He opened a window into your new creation.
He showed us a vision of your way:
where every child has enough to eat,
and can sleep safely all through the night,
where every graveyard is a front porch of heaven,
where the untouchable and unloveable
are given the seats of honor,
where tears of mourning become tears of laughter,
where grievous wrongs and horrid suffering
are made right and fair,
where children hunt Easter eggs on playgrounds
made from battlefields,
and where everyone is welcomed and loved.
on the night in which he gave himself up for us,
Jesus took bread, gave thanks to you,
broke the bread, gave it to his disciples and said,
“Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
When supper was over, he took the cup,
gave thanks to you, gave it to his disciples, and said,
“Drink from this, all of you;
this is my blood of the new covenant,
poured out for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Do this, as often as you drink it,
in remembrance of me.”
in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a holy and living sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Pour out Your Holy Spirit on us gathered here,
and on these gifts of bread and wine.
Make them be for us the body and blood of Christ,
that we may be for the world the body of Christ,
redeemed by His blood.
Renew our communion with all your saints,
especially those who now live with you.
Since you have refreshed our souls from the waters of life,
Help us refresh and renew others.
Since you have given us strength for the journey.
Help us to strengthen others on their journey.
Send your Spirit to renew our faith and transform our souls
So that we may hear your music,
Work for justice, delight in heavenly food,
And strengthen one another in love and grace.
Thanks to be God. Amen.
Giving the Bread and Cup
* Hymn No. 218
“It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”
Go forth into the world in the loving strength of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Go forth to serve God and your neighbor in all that you do.
And may the peace of Christ surround you and enfold you this night and forevermore. Amen.
**Great Thanksgiving: Copyright © 2001, 2002 Mark Wiley. Reprinted with permission.