Enduring the Longest Night

In praise of broken things.

I remember about five years ago, newly separated and in the thick of depression and emotional pain, I attended my church’s Blue Christmas service. It was my first Christmas in this new reality of no longer being a family of four, and I wasn’t quite sure how to handle it.

And this service – created for those whose Christmas comes with grief, loss or struggle – was a refuge from the glitter and sparkle of the season. Lights dimmed, candles glowing, somber faces. It was quiet, contemplative, gentle. There was a weight to the room, our collective grief filling the air and yet I felt comforted, as though my sadness was present but somehow suspended. It was, for that time, lifted from my shoulders, while I also shouldered the grief of everyone else. Like a weighted blanket, the grief no longer threatened to bury me.

The Blue Christmas service is also called the Longest Night service, though that night felt warmer and brighter than the six months that came before.

The comfort found amidst this community of grief brings to mind the words of Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, whom I heard preach in Chicago several years ago. Bolz-Weber’s message centres on honesty, authenticity and showing up as you are – that connection is made, love is shared, and the Church is most welcoming when we get real about our brokenness, and share it with others.

“God did not enter the world of our nostalgic, silent-night, snow-blanketed, peace-on-earth, suspended reality of Christmas. God slipped into the vulnerability of skin and entered our violent and disturbing world,” writes Bolz-Weber in her second book, Accidental Saints.

“In the end, the only real love in the world is found when you let yourself be truly known.”

Unimportant & holy

Sara Miles, author of Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion, says something similar: “This was where I found my faith: a faith expressed in the wild conceit that a helpless, low-caste baby could be God. That ugly, contaminated, and unimportant people embodied holiness. That my own neediness and misfitting, not my goodness or piety, were what God intended to use.”

She continues: “I understood why Christians imagined the kingdom of heaven as a feast: a banquet where nobody was excluded, where the weakest and most broken, the worst sinners and outcasts, were honored guests who welcomed one another in peace and shared their food.”

Is there blessing in brokenness then?

Last year at this time, I wrote a story for CC about my journey of healing, forgiveness and reconciliation with my ex-husband, and how we have come to a place where we once again celebrate Christmas together as a family, us and our two daughters.

Our marriage had been broken, and yet it has produced such beautiful things as we put the pieces back together (though in a different way than before).

This year will be different again, as a new partner in his life will change the way the four of us celebrate. The old way will break once more. But what good will be discovered?

A Broken World

“The effects of human-caused global warming are happening now, are irreversible for people alive today, and will worsen as long as humans add greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere.”

That’s according to NASA.

Indeed, our very planet is broken.

Life can feel hopeless, making it hard to hold tight to God’s reminder that God has all of creation in his care, and works all things for good.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isa. 43:19).

Perhaps we find blessing in brokenness through sharing it with others – partners in our grief who know what we’re going through, or supportive shoulders who help us get to the other side.

Michigan’s 14th Street Christian Reformed Church offers a Blue Christmas liturgy online. It involves (as such services usually do) the lighting of candles. One of these candles is lit in gratitude for supportive friends. The liturgy, taken from their website, is as follows:

Gratitude for Those Who Have Journeyed With Us

We light the fourth candle to remember all who have shared in our sorrow.
We thank you, Lord, for their compassion and for their presence with us
in times when our hurt went deeper than words could express.
We remember that you, Lord, sent your Holy Spirit
to sympathize with our weakness and to carry our sorrows.
We light this fourth candle as a symbol of hope and promise.
We thank you for those who held us and pointed to your light.

The world can indeed feel dark and heavy. The Longest Night service acknowledges that, sits within it, and gathers grieving people together to share the burden.


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