Monday, December 21 is the longest night of the year. In 2020 we have had many long nights and this year, perhaps more than ever, it is important to have a Longest Night Christmas worship service at your church.
Also called Blue Christmas, a Longest Night worship service is traditionally held to acknowledge that for many people Christmas is not a happy time of the year. Typically it is held for those who have lost loved ones over the course of the year, and for those who are lonely or separated from friends and family.
This year the need for solace and care is far greater, touching many more in our communities. Many are grieving this Christmas. Many are alone or confined to their small bubbles. Many are facing economic pressure and many are in distress. For them, Christmas will be a difficult end to a difficult year.
To quote an article I recently read;
“Who ever thought we’d grow nostalgic about going to the grocery store without a mask. Eating inside a restaurant. Dancing at a family wedding. Singing in Church…
The social distancing and social shut-down happening on a global scale are new forms of collective grief and grieving: we miss our people and we want to hear them, touch them, laugh with them, love them.”
Thus, a Longest Night service is an important ministry to your congregation and your community. It is the opportunity to acknowledge the difficulty of this season. It is the chance to name that not all things are ‘merry and bright’. It is also the chance to reaffirm that ‘the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.’ (John 1:5)
If you do choose to hold such a service this year, here are some thoughts;
- Keep it simple! This service does not need to be long or flowery. A simple acknowledgment of our circumstances and collective pain, as well as the reminder of Christ’s love and hope is sufficient. Remember that rituals matter. Consider including the lighting of candles, reciting of names and familiar music as part of the service.
- Consider prerecording it and posting it online. The medium will match the message. It also means people can watch and grieve privately which may be safer. (I recall a friend who watched our congregation’s Good Friday service three times because he needed to.) A pre-recorded service can also be posted on your website for the wider community to experience.
- Consider doing the service with another minister, congregation or even your whole presbytery. This acknowledges the universality of our experience and allows a broadly shared response to a broadly shared circumstance. It also means that already tired leaders don’t have to do one more thing by themselves.
- Acknowledge your own grief and sorrow. This has been difficult for us all. This year we have genuinely had to ask, ‘How can we sing the Lord’s sing in a foreign land.’ (Psalm 137:4)
This Christmas season will be unlike any other. Ironically it might be our closest experience to that first Christmas when, in the midst of fear and uncertainty an angel came and said “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” (Luke 2:10) This is a word of hope to our people. This is our word of hope as well; at Christmas time and always.