Tomorrow in the Northern Hemisphere is the Winter Solstice or the longest night. This event has carried significance for many people for thousands of years. While others further north of us will see no sunlight on Saturday, or only an hour or two, living here in Florida, the difference is not that extreme. We will still see about ten and a half hours of light, give or take a few minutes based on where you are. Then, on December 22nd, we begin our journey back towards long days and lots of sunlight once again.
I’ve always thought that Christmas following the Winter Solstice feels especially appropriate, given the state of our world. While we attempt to fill our dark moments with light, love, gifts, and delicious food, the world still darkens around us. Then, just as we think it cannot get any darker, we make that turn towards the summer solstice again. Christmas comes in those days just after, where the light is still in small quantities, and (at least in most places) it is cold and full of precipitation.
I found myself reflecting on this darkness just this week. A big myth is that Christmas is extra difficult for pastors. While it is hard and full work (and you should definitely thank a church staff member this week!) I can’t say it is any more difficult than the Christmases we know you experience along with us. Christmas isn’t hard because of the work, it is hard because darkness seems like it will never go away. When people go to the hospital, jobs are lost, loved ones pass away, and money is tight in the days before Christmas, the darkness feels like it is winning, and our efforts to beat back the darkness can seem futile. This season can be difficult for all of us, containing all of our hopes, fears, and longings. When we combine this with our culture’s deep need to “buy,” and our own drive to have the perfect decor and families, Christmas can feel burdensome instead of beautiful.
This week in worship we will light the fourth advent candle. The light grows stronger as we approach the birth of Christ, but we aren’t there just yet. We will hear that Scrooge’s transformation from his own personal darkness is almost complete. It feels like we’ve made a turn, just like the turn from the longest night, but we will still wait a few more days until it is time to light candles, sing carols, and welcome Emmanuel among us. This isn’t so bad. We continue to need, even as we come dangerously close to Christmas, the sacred pause of Advent to right our course and soothe our longings and anxiety.
This week, we’ll have special opportunities for sacred light and pause for you to experience in both spaces. In The Gathering, we’ll have our children’s play, “Little Drummer Dude,” as our Suntree Kids tell a wonderful adaptation of the Christmas story. In the 9:30 and 11am Traditional Services (remember- NO 8am!) we will hear, “And There Was Light,” a beautiful Christmas Cantata from our Chancel Choir. We thank Lia, Mary, Robert, Tom, and all those volunteers in our Suntree Kids Ministry and Chancel Choir that make this possible.
Then, Tuesday is Christmas Eve. Be sure to check out our service times, and invite a friend or a neighbor. We are not the only ones who need the lights of the candles, the soothing music of the carols, and the Gospel proclaimed in our lives. Christmas Eve, in the midst of such a poignant season, is a great opportunity to share love and grace with those you know who might not have a church home.
The longest night is not our final story. Neither is our longing, pain, and grief at the holiday. The “crazy” of Christmas may seem overwhelming, but we are not alone. Join us Sunday for a joy-filled reminder of that truth.
See you then,