Longest Night: A Service of Hope and Healing, offering a quieter time of reflection during the Christmas Season
Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on December 19, 2018
[Reflection begins after the Bible reading]
John 1:1-5, 14 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. 14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
We have an advent wreath in our home. Sometimes there’s a little chaos when I, the pastor, am somehow caught off guard by the arrival of Advent and end up dashing through the town to find candles. (The irony of racing around for candles to mark the quiet expectation of Advent is not lost of me.) Our wreath is a bit makeshift but that has its own appeal. When they’re finally in place, three purple and one pink candle gradually burn down in their descending lengths over the four weeks of Advent. Some years, the candles are lit without fanfare. Other years, when I’m feeling especially pious (you know…in a good way), I find prayers to accompany the Sundays.
This year, without any planning, I simply said something like, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not, cannot, will not, never will overcome it.” There’s something about the promise of that verse. It’s simple and powerful. Simple because most of us know the comfort of light when we’re afraid in the dark. Powerful because it doesn’t take much light to lessen the darkness but darkness is a necessary part of seeing light. We know this cosmically by looking at the stars in a moonless sky. We know this intimately by lighting a candle in a dark room when the power goes out. Last Sunday in Adult Sunday School, one question Pastor Ann asked us in the class was “in what or where do you find joy right now or generally in this Advent season.” There were several answers about Christmas lights and quiet moments. Mine is the Advent wreath in all of its soft light meeting the darkness at its edges.
A rabbi friend of mine recently opened a meeting of interfaith leaders with a devotion about darkness and light. The co-revealing of both the light of the menorah candles celebrating Hanukkah and the darkness in which we sat was framed, on the one hand, by the recent loss of life at a Pittsburgh synagogue and, on the other, by the joy of our shared connections with each other in the room, shadows holding the light. The symbolism and the power of what it was representing was as plain as the candles burning in the dark room. Candles have that way about them. A pastor friend of mine likes to wave the occasional caution flag about finding a new use for candles in worship because they become so dear so quickly. The small flame speaks volumes when words simply fail us. While we’re worshiping together, we’ll have an opportunity to light a candle in remembrance or in prayer – powerful when words fail us.
And words often do fail us in the mystery of faith. Deep in our bodies, in the life force of our bones, the words of creation are embodied but not explained. The Gospel of John opens with the same words as Genesis, the first book in the Bible. “In the beginning…” In the beginning all was formless void in deep darkness until there was also light. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…what has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” Our candles symbolize something so much deeper with their flames. With them we remember the God of history. God who creates light in the darkness and new life in a young mother’s body as the baby Jesus, new life as God’s Word made flesh. God also promises to be with us today in Jesus – shining light in the darkness and new life here, now, in us, in OUR flesh. We don’t always have the words to use but many of us know something about the light of the one who breaks into our darkness. Whether that’s the darkness of illness, fatigue, grief, or the mess we’ve made of things, we know and have experienced God’s promise of light – most often it’s much to our surprise. Being surprised by the light is kind of the best way because we know, deep inside, that we don’t create the light.
The Light is given by the One who is the Light and opens our eyes in deep darkness, in the midst of suffering.
From cradle through cross to new life, Jesus lives forgiveness that tells the truth about ourselves and each other, bending fear into courage and transforming hatred into love so that we too reflect the light, shining light into darkness. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will not, cannot, does not, never will overcome it.
 Genesis 1:1-5