The Longest Night of the Longest Year

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”

Edward Pola

Edward Pola

Growing up I loved Andy Williams’ version of this song. Even now in later life, as lamp posts in shopping districts begin to don Christmas decorations, as rainy streets sparkle in the dark with the red and white lights of cars and trucks, and the occasional passersby on sidewalks sport Santa hats, or necklaces of green and red, blue and yellow lights, this line sounds in my thoughts early and often, always in the voice of Andy Williams, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.

Except, it isn’t always. For some people the holiday season arrives like unwanted house guests, carrying trash bags of anxieties, heavy blankets of sadness, settling in on the couch and taking control of the remote. We can protest, “No, not this year! Leave!” But they pay no attention. They have settled in for the duration.

I have known the weight of sorrow as light seeps from the hours of the day and dark pinches in from both above and below. Some years, even as the light of day has expanded to its broadest reaches, those summer nights when dusk softly lingers until 10:30 pm, I have felt a small gnawing at my spirit at the turn of the Summer Solstice, knowing that the darkness is now creeping in, little by little, but inexorably. As a pastor, through the years I have also accompanied more and more souls who opened their hearts to me sharing the pain, the fear and ghosts who arrive this time of year.

Lazarus

I wear depression
like grave clothes. Hands,
feet, heart bound. Darkness
blankets my eyes, thoughts.
I lie entombed
in a cold cave,
but hear no voice
calling “Come forth,
be free.”

Then, at some point years ago, I became aware of a community of others who have given voice to their own struggles with this darkness, or at least who acknowledge the experience of those who don’t always find this the most wonderful time of the year. From my own tradition in the Christian faith, I read about “Longest Night” services which name and observe the experience of many souls not simply the physics of our spinning planet. Even without seeing these others, knowing they were out there, somewhere, anywhere, provided a measure of comfort.

Even more so, becoming aware of the torment Jesus himself endured while in this life awakened me to the strength of his presence in the midst of darkness. Several years ago, while reading a very familiar story, a veil lifted from my eyes and I saw the reality of the scene for the first time:

They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

Mark 14:32-36

These are the words of someone who knows the crushing weight of sadness, the agitating despair of loneliness. Jesus did not pass through this life in a stoned bliss. His heart broke for all the broken hearted. His spirit ached for all those broken in spirit. He was overwhelmed to the point of death

And in his compassion he stands with all of us now. So, on this longest night, of what has seemed the longest year many of us have ever endured, please know that you are not alone. There are untold others who stand together in this dark, though we see them not with our eyes. I believe the Anointed One stands with us as well. Please know that you are not alone.

“Why hast thou forsaken me?”
Psalm 22:1

I have called to God and heard no answer,
I have seen the thick curtain drop, and sunlight die;
My voice has echoed back, a foolish voice,
The prayer restored intact to its silly source.
I have walked in darkness, he hung in it.
In all my mines of night, he was there first;
In whatever dead tunnel I am lost, he finds me.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
From his perfect darkness a voice says, I have not.

Chad Walsh

5 Comments

Add yours →

  1. markneuenschwander December 22, 2020 — 2:50 am

    Come Thou long expected Jesus.

    Thanks for putting these helpful thought/truths on paper, Doug.

  2. Doug,

    It was moving to read your views on this darkest day and with hope for a turning. You hit on the lows that many of us face and that Christ knows.

    Jeff

  3. Thank you, Doug, for expressing so beautifully the span of spirits at this season. You remind us to see beyond the festivities to recognize the suffering around us. Merry Christmas.

  4. Wonderfully written Doug. What a perfect reminder of the way things really are. God bless you and yours. Mary

  5. Jacquelyn Campbell December 23, 2020 — 1:33 am

    This is beautiful, Doug. Thank you so much for sharing it.

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