Advent reflection for the Longest Night service at Trinity Episcopal Church
December 16, 2017
The Longest Night service at Trinity Church in Houston takes place on the Saturday evening closest to the winter solstice during Advent. We gather together in Trinity’s beautiful quiet chapel to acknowledge the sorrows and struggles that can appear during this season, along with the joys and hopes. In community, we reflect and share and pray, and we gather around the table to share Eucharist together. I was asked this year to prepare and offer a reflection and I am sharing it here as well. As we approach this winter solstice, our longest night, may we all know, each in our own hearts, that light is already on the way. Know that I wish you much peace this holy season and always.
Gracious God, we come before you this night as your family, as community. In this very holy season, we await the Light of your coming. We also know our woundedness this longest night, and we wait in the dark. Help us to know and remember that you are already here with us. Help us to not be afraid to hope and to yearn for the light that is You. Help us to come to your table with open hands and an open heart, open to the wholeness and healing that only You can give.
We ask all this on this longest night, in the name of your son and our brother Jesus,
“The only thing I know about the Second Coming is that it is going to happen because of God’s love. God made the universe out of love; the Word shouted all things joyfully into being because of love. The Second Coming, whenever it happens and whatever it means, will also be because of love.”
“Time and Space Turned Upside Down”
I have a good friend whose sister is an Episcopal priest in California. Her sister has told my friend that whenever she meets with a bereaved family to prepare for a funeral, she always asks them to “look for the miracle.” In her experience, a miracle always follows a death, sooner or later.
I have seen this in my own life.
In the spring of 1994, I was pregnant and suffered an early miscarriage. Later that year, I became pregnant again. When Christmas came, I was in Cincinnati visiting my husband’s family. I was at the same stage of pregnancy where I had lost our first baby. I was anxious and sad and afraid that I would miscarry again, this time far from home. As I sat in church with my husband and his family that Christmas Eve afternoon, my eyes fell on a statue of Mary. I remembered her words (Luke 1: 38) when the angel Gabriel came to tell her that she would conceive and bear God’s son…”Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” I remembered the words of Amy Grant’s song “Breath of Heaven, Mary’s Song”: “Breath of heaven, hold me together, be forever near me, breath of heaven…breath of heaven, lighten my darkness, pour over me your holiness, for you are holy.” Everything felt very risky that day, and I couldn’t help but feel sad, knowing that I would have been holding a baby in my arms if it hadn’t been for the miscarriage. The miracle came about six months later when our daughter was born the next summer. She was, and is, and will always be, our miracle.
Ten years later, my father died after many years of suffering from a slow-growing cancer that eventually made his breathing difficult and brought heart failure. He had been a hospice patient for three years before he died…and he loved life so much. After his death, there was much work to do including helping with caregiving for my mother who moved across the state to be near us. As Christmas approached, I found myself sad and almost dreading the celebration I had always loved. We were in a new church, my husband’s first parish as an Episcopal priest, and were still adjusting to this friendly but new to us community. As I sat in church on Christmas Eve, my mind was filled with thoughts of my father and how much I missed him. After the service, as we went outside, I suddenly heard shouts of joy from the kids. Then I saw the snow. White flakes falling everywhere and sticking to the cold ground. My first thought was that my father had sent the snow from heaven. That he had sent the snow to let us know that all was well and that we should indeed be celebrating Christmas and the birth of our Savior. You all know that we don’t usually have a white Christmas around here. Not in southeast Texas. But that year, the year I felt so sad, we did. And it stayed all through Christmas Day. This was my miracle that Christmas.
And now, here we are in 2017. The year of Hurricane Harvey, the year of so much loss and sadness. This year our community has suffered, as in every year, private sadness and loss that is always present. This year our community suffered through Harvey together, and we are still suffering. We have both private and communal sorrows. We sit here tonight this year as in all years, broken sometimes in ways that no one can see and no one can know. It has been a hard year to be a church community with so much loss in our country…loss from mass shootings, loss from wildfires, loss from secrets that we hold in our hearts. This church and this community and we who call this place home have all suffered, each in our own way.
And then the Astros won the World Series. A miracle, no?
The truth is that we are waiting this very night, this longest night, for that miracle. The miracle of Advent, of Christmas, is that Jesus is born. Of all the ways that God could have entered humanity, in what Madeleine L’Engle calls “an invasion of holiness”, God chose to come as a baby. A helpless naked newborn infant. Someone who would depend on us frail humans for his own sustenance, his own life.
I think that God may have wanted to be sure that we wouldn’t be frightened by the coming of his son. After all, there are so many other ways to imagine the coming of Christ. The scriptures are filled with images of how Christ might return again to us in the Second Coming. But he came in Bethlehem as a baby. A weak and tender baby, and we were not afraid…because the angels themselves told us to “fear not.”
This baby came because of Love. This Jesus entered our world in Love. And it is this Love that brings us together here in this church we call home, over and over and over again.
We know our own brokenness this night. We know well our personal darkness and something as well of our communal darkness. It is by faith that we are here, waiting for the Light to come and to shion this longest night.
If there were no Light, we would not know that this is darkness. We hold both darkness and our belief in the Light this night, even as we hold both our sorrow and our joy during this most lovely of seasons. Every birth is inevitably a death, and we believe that every death is also a birth.
We are here together this night and we bring all of who we are to this table. We bring our sorrows and our joys, we bring our brokenness and our willingness to be made whole in Jesus.
May we always remember that the darkness of this night, of all nights, is only part of the story, only part of the reality of our lives together. May we know the wholeness of embracing all of who we are, all of our experience. May we prepare for the Light to come, knowing well that it is Love and only Love that calls us into being, this night and all the days of our lives.