It’s the Longest Night of the year and in a few hours we will gather here at University Congregational United Church of Christ as people will do in many other places, to light candles for where we need hope on this longest and darkest of nights.
I wish I had something big to offer, something large enough to meet the holes and the losses that this season is for some of us. And yet the gifts of these holiday seasons are small. Gifts that can seem all so inadequate, yet all that we are given.
What can I offer, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise one, I would do my part;
But what can I give you? Give you my heart.
(In the Bleak Midwinter, verse 4
Christian Rossetti, alt.)
And so I offer you a few small things, little things for the meeting of these days. Mostly, and most importantly, my heart and prayer goes out to you and is with you this season, and will be with you these days. And I offer to you, all that I have, a few stirrings of my heart.
Like some of you, there have been years that I would just assume this holiday season be over. Like many of you, there are years that I have looked back on many losses of many kinds. Years that it feels a bit beyond me to imagine singing, “Joy to the World! The Lord is come!” on Christmas Eve, just a few days hence. How will I be ready to sing out “joy” this year? In the Christian tradition, these weeks before Christmas are marked as Advent, a time of emptying as we prepare to make room for the Christ child. And oh, we all have been emptied of so much this Advent season. Lost so much. Had so much taken from us and fear more being taken. Deaths, job loss, terrorism, war, uncertainty, health crises, financial stresses…the list goes on.
In the various faith traditions of this season, little lights are lit – on the menorah, on the Advent wreath. In Christianity, we traditionally light a candle each of the four weeks before Christmas – the candle of hope, the candle of peace, the candle of love, the candle of joy. And finally the Christ candle on Christmas Eve, a sign and celebration that God is present here with us. Just little lights. And little words to meet the still growing darkness of these days: “hope”, “peace”, “love”. Words that seem all too fragile or even a little beyond us, like “joy”.
In time of war, enough oil given for the lamps.
In the midst of a season of oppression and death, a little child is born.
Little gifts that come in sad and trying days and times.
Not big gifts, but little lights and little words to meet us in these days. Little gifts I can often miss if I try to look for something too big these days. Little gifts I can walk right by, stumble over if I don’t keep watch for them. Little things. But little things that finally are what we are given, sometimes all we are given and that even can be enough. Enough to meet us today. Right now. Where we are. Not enough to take away the grief and pain now and forever, but enough for now.
And that is the hope and prayer of this season I fall back to.
That little things be given to us – little signs of holding and hope and love each day.
And that we live in the hope and promise that tomorrow little things will be given as well.
Enough to meet us for today.
Enough to meet us for tomorrow.
Little gifts that even, and finally, may be the greatest gifts of all. Gifts that are sparks of the eternal – those gifts of that hope, and faith, and love that cannot but spark out and be found in many surprising ways. Even now. Even tonight.
There are times when
all the stars are torn from our skies,
and the morning will not come.
We try to make our way in unlit passages,
frightened, desperate and despairing.
We cannot see,
for wherever we turn
the night continues.
And yet, it is
into this impenetrable night
that the Child is born.
Tearing through the seams of darkness,
the Morning Star appears
in our eyes and in our hearts.
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great Light.
( “Morning Star” from Searching for Shalom by Ann Weems.)