(915) 239-7409 stpaulsmarfatx@gmail.com

Longest Night Homily – 2021

Somewhere, someone is whistling Joy to the World.

Somewhere, someone is humming 

We Wish You a Merry Christmas.

Somewhere, people are shopping 

for last minute gifts

while getting caught up in the giddiness of the hustle and bustle.

But tonight, 

we gather on the eve 

of the longest night of the year,

to sing quieter tunes

and sit in stillness.

Tonight, as ancient people have done for millennia,

we gather as the darkness threatens 

to overtake the light,

and we wonder:  

Will darkness overshadow everything?

Or will 

light come to renew us and cheer us?

We don’t wonder as the ancients did

if the sun will die and fail to return.

But we do, like them, 

gather in the darkness of this long night

to name our own darkness and fear and grief,

and to see the beauty of the light.

Maybe your loved one has died.

Maybe this pandemic has brought you down

Maybe your family is a dysfunctional mess.

Maybe home for you is far away 

and you’re stuck here in Far West Texas.

Maybe you just get blue at Christmas time,

or your struggle with depression 

is magnified.

When I was growing up,

my grandparents made a beautiful thing 

out of this time of year. I was Jewish and we had to keep up with my Christian friends.

Plates of candies and cookies 

covered the dining room table.

Hannakah Candlelight filled the house as we welcomed family and friends

to visit and share a glass of something good….

But then I would see something else in my grandparents:

A deep river of winter tears,

a sadness at this time of year,

a blue feeling that came over them….remembering those in our family who had died during the holocaust.

They could never quite put it into words.

It was part sentimental,

part grieving for family and friends who had died,

part longing for days when life wasn’t so hard,

part a sense that the beauty and 

gift of this life is fleeting,

and even as we enjoy it 

we feel it slipping away.

And apparently I inherited this joyful melancholy of my grandparents,

because few Hannakahs & Christmases go by when I don’t shed some tears for all those reasons and more.

It’s hard to feel such depth and weight and sadness and blues

in the time of year 

when the expectations are so high

and the demand for joyfulness is so great.

This season makes me think of the line

from David Sedaris’ Santa Land Diaries.

The department store elf talks about having   to be so cheery for 12 hours a day and says:

It make’s one’s mouth hurt

to speak with such forced merriment.

But we are here tonight

because the only road through the darkness into the light

the only way to go over the river and through the woods

to grandma’s house or where ever we need to be for this season

is through the honesty of tears and grief

and the whole complex of feelings we feel

because we are alive and we have depth

and we need to winter 

as much as we need to summer.

And we know that honesty about these feelings and this truth,

and not a mask of smiles and a façade of cheer,

is the only way to true, deep, profound joy.

Of course, 

why else was A Charlie Brown Christmas

so popular and beloved?

It shocked and touched people over 50 years ago with its Christmas blues,

in a time when you just didn’t talk about such things.

Charles Schultz captured it perfectly in the longing of Charlie Brown,

and the chromatic jazz music of Vince Guaraldi.

A Saturday Night Live character, 

Jebediah Atkinson,

an 1860’s newspaper critic,

gave his harsh review of A Charlie Brown Christmas when he said:

I was hoping for joy and wonder.

Instead I got a 30 minute Zoloft commercial.

Well friends, 

we have the gift and authority of Scripture

on our side tonight, 

and not just Charles Schultz.

The good news of God comes to those in darkness

to those who are waiting 

with just a thread of hope to cling to

to those who have nearly given up,

to those who know the tears of things.

Listen to Isaiah’s profound word of good news:

The people who walked in darkness

       have seen a great light;

       those who lived in a land of deep darkness —on them light has shined.

And who does Jesus reach out to in his treasured words when he says:

                28Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens,

and I will give you rest. 

29Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me;

for I am gentle and humble in heart,

and you will find rest for your souls. 

30For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

He is speaking to those whose burden in life is felt as heavy

and who bear a hard yoke and need relief.

And in John’s Gospel when it sums up the good news of Christ

it cannot do it without mentioning the darkness:

5The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

It is clear throughout Scripture that because God is compassion

God’s mercy is offered abundantly to those in darkness,

those in grief, the poor, the sick,

those who feel hopeless.

And the secret I want to share with you tonight

that I can’t share with everyone else on Christmas eve:

Those whose Christmas is blue,

those who can’t hold back the winter tears,                        

those who know darkness and grief and pain,

know the depth of the good news of God

in a way those who only sing fa la la la la 

cannot know.

You people, here tonight,

this dark night, this is when God’s light shines the brightest

because we come together 

in honesty of life’s struggle

and still see the light shine.

This is the whole reason that Christmas was placed on December 25 anyway.

It was timed to coincide 

with the solstice celebrations

when the darkness was at its apex

and the light was most needed,

and shone most beautifully.

And this light, 

we say with humble trust and quiet joy,

this light is Christ, God’s own self embedded in human life

so that human life could be lifted up to the divine life.

I’d like you to contemplate this preview of Christmas good news:

The mystery of the good news is the 

depth and length

and breadth of God’s mercy and compassion

for humanity and creation.

This mystery is summed up in the idea of incarnation –

enfleshment – embodiment.

It says that divine love and mercy

will not remain distant concepts for us to debate their meaning and ponder their existence.

No, instead, God enacts divine love and mercy

in real human, flesh-and-blood living.

Jesus is the guarantor and gift of this embodiment.

Our lives are the experience of it by the Spirit’s power.

Hear this on the longest night:

Incarnation is God moving 

into our tears and our laughter,

our joy and our sorrow,

our fear and our courage,

our life and our death…

because only in the odd mixture

of these things of light and darkness

do we come to see the meaning of our lives

and the infinite greatness 

of God’s love and mercy.

So I want you to know:

It’s OK to be blue 

when everyone else is green and red.

It’s OK to be sad 

in the midst of excessive merriment.

But also:  It’s OK to be joyful

even when we grieve or feel sadness.

It’s OK to let yourself celebrate in hard times.

It’s OK to share moments of laughter

even when we know illness and grief.

Christ is with us 

in all of it as God’s own compassion.

This gathering 

and all gatherings of people in the church

is wrapped and swaddled

in the good news of God in Christ incarnate.

It is a mixture of tears of joy and tears of sorrow,

tears of laughter and tears of regret,

tears of grief and tears of new birth.

But when we gather together 

in such infinite love and mercy,

which is always a beautiful mystery beyond our comprehension,

all we have to offer God anyway

is all these blessed tears.