It doesn't get a huge reception, and part of that may be due to the fact that many people just don't quite know what to do with the service.
It takes place on December 21st, which is where it gets its name. "The Longest Night." During the month of December, the nights get longer and the daylight far shorter until it reaches the 21st, the shortest day of the year and the longest "night" of the year.
Sometimes this service is called "Blue Christmas" (you just can't help but think of Elvis with that title), and it takes place in December, but not necessarily on the 21st. I have preferred to utilize the darkness of the 21st to emphasize the idea of being caught up in the longest night.
Because for some, perhaps more than we might think, the season before and of Christmas is a difficult one. And not everyone can understand or appreciate that. This service tires, though.
It isn't a service designed to "cheer up" those who attend. It is, instead, designed to acknowledge grief or sadness, and offer a place and a community where we sing, cry, and come together in the midst of emotion and in the recognition that sometimes the emphasis on joy can sting the broken hearts around us.
Most of all, as I said last night at the beginning of the service, the Longest Night service is to let people know that they are not alone.
One of the other aspects of the service that many people will miss, save those who attend, is just how beautiful the church looks. If you are familiar with our sanctuary, you will know that during the Advent/Christmas season, our sanctuary looks like this:
It is a beautiful space. It does what it is designed to do. But on the evening of the Longest Night, the idea of "bright" just doesn't work. It needs to be something else.
So two years ago, our choir director, J.C. Smith, began to talk about how to make this service have the proper feel to it. And mostly that had to do with the lights.
Since we can't dim our church house lights, and we can't select which ones specifically to turn on or off, we decided to go a different direction. And, as he has access to a fabulous lighting system, we created a setting that I believe is befitting of the Longest Night. Taking cues from the idea of a "blue Christmas" (and, by the way, the liturgical color for Advent can be blue or purple), the end result was this:
Last night we added a new feature, which was to light up the front of the church as well.
If you look closely enough at this picture, you can see through the open door. With the stained glass window highlighted, it made for a tremendous sight both up close and from the road.
It also set the whole place apart. Which was the idea.
Now, I know that this service isn't for everyone. I also know that some people who would benefit from it often think it is for "other people." But I can't make people attend (not just on the Longest Night either), and, as a church, all we can do is invite.
Our plan is to hold this service each December 21st. It is a very special service, and I would encourage you to think about it and as this season comes around again next year, invite someone who might need a shoulder to cry on, a community to cry with, or a place to come and be quiet with God. And if that person is you, consider joining us in beautiful quiet and compassion.