Longest Night Service
December 21, 2010
by Sil Galvan

Opening Song: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Welcome

Leader: The constant refrain on radio and television, in shopping malls and churches, about the happiness of the Christmas Season, about getting together with family and friends, reminds many people of what they have lost or have never had. The anguish of broken relationships, the insecurity of unemployment, the weariness of ill health, the pain of isolation, the gut wrenching loss of a child, the loneliness of no longer having a beloved spouse to share each day, the loss of a dear family pet - all these can contribute to a feeling of being alone, of 'feeling blue' in the midst of the society around us which seems intent on 'being happy' and 'celebrating'. There are years when we hurt at Christmas time and can't get into the festivities which others are enjoying. It is at such times that we need to make the space and take the time to acknowledge our sadness and concern. We need to know that we are not alone.

Candle Lighting

This first candle which we light this evening is to remember those whom we have loved and lost. We pause to remember their names, their faces, their voices, the memories that bind them to us during this season. We also remember in a special way all those who died in the tragedies of September 11th. May God's eternal love surround them.

(The first candle is lit during a moment of silence.)

This second candle we light is to redeem the pain of loss; the loss of relationships, the loss of jobs, the loss of health. We pause to gather up the pain of the past and offer it to God, asking that from God's hands we receive the gift of peace. Refresh, restore, renew us O God, and lead us into your future as we grasp your hands and receive the embrace of your peace.

(The second candle is lit during a moment of silence.)

This third candle we light is to remember ourselves during this Christmas time. We pause and remember these past weeks and months; the disbelief, the anger, the down times, the poignancy of reminiscing, the hugs and handshakes of family and friends. We are grateful for all those who have stood with us and for all the support they have given us. Let us remember that the dawn defeats the darkness.

(The third candle is lit during a moment of silence.)

This fourth candle is lit to remember our faith and the gift of hope which the Christmas story offers to us. Here we remember that the God who shares our life, promises us a place and time where there will be no more pain and suffering. Let us remember that our Savior Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, has given us the light and shows us the way, unveiling the truths of eternal life.

(The fourth candle is lit during a moment of silence.)

Opening Prayers

Leader: O Lord, we come to you tonight in pain and grief. A death or a loss has changed this season. Once it was a special season for us too. But someone has died. Someone has left us. Someone has moved away. We have lost a job. We have lost a dream, a goal, a cause. We find ourselves adrift, alone, lost in a terrifying new world. This season reminds us of all that used to be, and cannot be any more.

Leader: O Lord, we come as victims. (Although we have survived the events of September 11, our country feels violated. We feel violated. Our peace has been shattered forever. We come to you to make sense of what is senseless. The memories of what was, the fears of what may be, stifle us.) All around us we hear the sounds of celebration, the jingle of cash registers, the rustle of wrapping paper. But some of us have nothing we can give, and some of us have no one to whom we can give anything. This is our longest night, Lord. Please be near us. (Pause for individual reflection.)

Leader: O God, on the night before his bitter passion, you sent your angel to comfort your Son. Be near to us this night, and all of the nights to come. Grant us the grace of your Spirit to find the peace necessary to weather this storm and live a productive life once again. We ask this through Christ, our Lord.

All: Amen.

Liturgy of the Word

First Reading (Isaiah 40: 1-2a; 25-31): Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated....To whom can you liken me as an equal? says the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these: He leads out their army and numbers them, calling them all by name. By his great might and the strength of his power not one of them is missing! Why, O Jacob, do you say, and declare, O Israel, "My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God"? Do you not know or have you not heard? The LORD is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint nor grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny. He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound. Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles' wings; They will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. The Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 91): On Eagle's Wings

Second Reading (Revelation 7: 9-17): After this I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice: "Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb." All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed: "Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen." Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, "Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?" I said to him, "My lord, you are the one who knows." He said to me, "These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they stand before God's throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." The Word of the Lord.

Alleluia: I am the light of the world, says the Lord. All those who believe in me will have the light of life.

Gospel (Matthew 11: 25-30): At that time Jesus said, "I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him. Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

Homily

The Only Way Out

As I was preparing this homily, I realized that the subject I am probably least prepared to speak about is grief. After all, the priests here take care of all of the funerals and I only perform an occasional wake service before the funeral. But as I thought about it, I realized that grief is not something we usually talk about. When we attend a wake or funeral, it is not so important to talk to the grieving persons but rather to "be there" for them. Our presence means more than words ever could.

And what could we possibly say at those times? That this death was God's will? This could hardly be farther from the truth. God does not will death. It was man's disobedience which caused death to come into the world. God's will was for us to have eternal life. But once death had come to be, it was God's will to offer us the possibility of eternal life once again through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ on the cross. But that sacrifice never would have occurred had not Mary told the angel Gabriel "be it done unto me according to your word". It was her acquiescence to the will of the Father which enabled the Son to be born in human flesh. And that sacrifice would never have been possible if our Lord had not said in the Garden of Gethsemane "Father, would that this cup could pass from me, but not my will, but yours be done".

Of course, grief is a natural response to the loss of someone we have loved. But that is just the point: the person we have lost is someone we have loved. Or perhaps more close to the truth is that that person has loved us. And through that human person, we have felt God's love for us. Just think about that a minute. Through the love of another person, we have felt God's love for us. That is the key to understanding why we are here tonight.

There are some people in my own life whom I miss dearly, people whom I have loved and who loved me. Conversely, there are some whom I do not miss at all. And that is a sad thing. So, believe it or not, the fact that you are grieving is a good thing, because you have loved and been loved by someone who is no longer here. Your task, especially at this season of the year which is supposed to be one so full of joy, is to get beyond the grief. But how does one do that?

I firmly believe it is through our faith. Without our faith at times like this, there is only despair, and that is not an option. If left to our own devices, our own natures, we would think of no one but ourselves, good old "number one". It is only through our faith that we come to love others. Consider the following story.

The way out of our grief is through our faith. And it is our faith which teaches us the need to get beyond ourselves and focus on others. So we then should deny our grief? Absolutely not. As we discussed, grief is a very natural response to the loss of a loved one. But the problems arise when we are consumed by our grief or get "bogged down" in it, as it were. As Mrs. Kingsley discovered, the only way to get beyond the grief is to be focused on others. To put it succinctly, "the only way out is out", i.e., the only way out of our grief is to be focused out to others.

So this is your task this holiday season and throughout the upcoming year and the years that follow: get beyond your grief by focusing on others. It will not be easy. But then again, it was not easy for Christ to win eternal life for us either. And always remember that others need to feel the love of God for them through you just as you felt the love of God through your loved one. Do this in remembrance of your loved one.

Reference

1. Unto the Least of These by Florien S. Hollenbeck, as printed in Christmas in My Heart Volume 5, edited by Joe L. Wheeler. Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996.

Candles of Remembrance

At this time, we would like to invite everyone to come forward and light a candle. As you do so, you are also invited to say aloud the name or names of loved ones you would like to remember in a special way.

Prayers of the Faithful

In the spirit of this season let us now confidently ask God for all the things we need;

That we may be granted the strength to participate in this Christmas season in whatever way we can, we pray to the Lord.

That our families and friends may continue to help and support us, we pray to the Lord.

That all those who lost friends, family and relatives in the tragedies of September 11th may find comfort in their faith, especially at this time of the year, we pray to the Lord.

For the persons whom we have loved who have died. For all the losses that we have suffered, that they may be redeemed by your Easter promise, we pray to the Lord.

God of compassion and love, hear the prayers of these, your people. Grant to all, especially the bereaved and troubled, the peace proclaimed by the angels at your Son's birth. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Lord's Prayer

Sign of Peace

Closing Song: Silent Night

(Accreditation: I have borrowed very heavily from the services listed elsewhere on this page. Please do not publish without permission from the various authors. )

Homily #2
Go Light Your World

(Begin with Youtube video of Go Light Your World at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TqBz_qvqBL4 )

I don't know about you but I found some of the images in that video to be very striking.

The principal lyric in the song says "take your candle and go light your world". Well, you probably can guess where I'm going with this.

But before we go there, we should note that light is an image that is central to the gospel of John. In the very first verses, he says that Jesus "was life and the life was the light of the world" (John 1:4). Later in his gospel, he records that when our Lord heard of the death of John the Baptist at the hands of Herod, he says that John was a "light, consuming and revealing, but you wished to rejoice exceedingly for a while in his presence" (John 5:35)

We all have a light within us. Perhaps we could call it the light of life. It radiates to others through the good works that we do in life. It is these works that we remember in the lives of those who have gone to their eternal reward. And the word "remember" is an important one. It is said that no one has truly died until their memory is gone from the hearts of those who remain. If this is true, then our remembrance of our loved ones helps keep them alive.

We all want to be remembered after we pass on. According to Matthew, Mark and Luke, our Lord himself told his disciples at the Last Supper to "do this in remembrance of me".

In our own lives we are challenged to carry on not only our own lights but also the lights of those we have loved or who have loved us. And we do that by doing good deeds in memory of them. Consider the following story.

The forgiveness that the Biehl's offered to their daughter's murderers and the good works they have sponsored in the community are surely above and beyond what we would call ordinary. But those good works are having a profound effect on the lives of many who would have no other way to rise above their poverty-stricken circumstances.

We don't have to do such incredible things. We ARE called, however, to do simple things that can transform the lives of others and we can do them in memory of our loved ones. No one but ourselves needs to know why we do them. It is sufficient that we know the reasons behind our actions. But the point is that we do DO them.

Certainly at this time of the year, we don't have to look far to find those in need. But in helping others, we are doing our part to "go light the world". And we will also be doing our part to help remember those that we have loved who have passed on and cannot "light the world" on their own.

That is my challenge to all of you this evening: to take your candle, and the candles of your loved ones, and go light the world.

Reference:

1. Adapted from 60 Minutes, CBS News, January 17, 1999. Transcripts available from Burrell's at Burrelle@aol.com