The Longest Night
I recently had the privilege to deliver a Message of Hope at my Church’s Longest Night Service. I thought I would adapt what I said into a blog.
Why is the service called the Longest Night service? It could just as easily be called the Shortest Day Service but that just doesn’t sound as poetic, does it? But in truth, December 21st has the least amount of daylight in the year. 9 Hours, 51 minutes, and 42 seconds of daylight here in Greenville, SC to be precise. The day before had 3 seconds more daylight and by Christmas we will be enjoying 21 more seconds of light than the 21st. Do the math, and logic tells you if this day has the least amount of light, then it must have the most amount of darkness, making it The Longest Night. So from today’s sunset at 5:22 until tomorrow’s sunrise at 7:33 there is darkness.
Have you ever made plans to watch the sun rise? If so, you know to do so you have to get up while it is still dark. When I was employed, I caught the sunrise most mornings on my commute. Many were glorious and actually made it worth my time to go to work. Sometimes (many) it was the ONLY thing I enjoyed about my workday!
I must admit that since I retired and put away my alarm clock, I see way more sunsets than I do sunrises. But sometimes my wife Jenni and I like to make plans to see the sun rise in a special location like Bald Rock or, our favorite, Pretty Place at Camp Greenville.
Some of you know that Jenni and I travel the country in our self-made campervan. Sunrises are fairly easy to catch if we have overnighted in a place with an open view. We just pull the window shades or roll open the sliding door. On our travels, we’ve caught sunrises from rock quarries to badlands to mountain tops.
But to catch the sunrise from a special place like Pretty Place, we have to do some planning and have a little faith. We have to leave our house while it’s still dark and, honestly, have no assurance that there will be a colorful sunrise. That means negotiating curvy roads and climbing steep elevations in the dark. Even though we have traveled the road up past Caesars Head many times, we still get lost in the many curves and switchbacks, especially in the dark. Even when we get to our destination, if we’ve timed it correctly, it’s still dark. And then we sit. And Wait. We’re never sure what it will look like exactly, but we do know the sun WILL rise, and we have faith it will be marvelous and worth the early morning drive.
At this time of the year, we are focused on the birth of the Christ-child, but for a few minutes I want to shift that focus to his crucifixion.
When Jesus was crucified, things were chaotic. His disciples were heartbroken. Roman soldiers were cruel. The sky was doing crazy things—it turned DARK in the middle of the day! And then it was finished and time was running out on the day and they had to get Jesus’ body into a tomb. The next day was the sabbath so the women who followed him knew the proper burial treatment of his body would have to wait.
All the gospels give important details of what transpired on that third day, but I was recently inspired by The Reverand Jonathan Holston, United Methodist Bishop of the South Carolina Annual Conference, to look more closely at the gospel of John. It is in John 20:1 that we read: “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.”
While it was STILL DARK she set about doing her tasks. Mary’s work ethic is much stronger than mine. Evidently stronger than the other disciples too. While it was STILL DARK she went to the tomb.
Could this have been Mary Magdalene’s longest night? I’m willing to bet she didn’t get much sleep that night. These last few days had not gone the way she thought they would. Then, just like me maneuvering my van along dark winding roads, she was walking dark paths going from the city to the tomb where Jesus had been placed. She knew what it looked like when she left it days ago, but what about now? How would she move the stone? Who would help her? Could her life get any worse? What was to become of her and the other disciples? Did anyone in the world care about them and their predicament?
So many questions. So many unknowns. Perhaps some doubt, confusion, or self-pity. All while it was dark. It was indeed her longest night.
And when she arrived, the tomb was empty. And Mary Magdalene’s life was about to change again.
Are you traveling this world in the dark? You are not alone.
Have the last few days, months, or years not gone the way you had hoped? You are not alone.
Have you lost something, or someone, you treasured? You are not alone.
Perhaps you’re waiting for answers? Wondering if someone will be there to handle the heavy stones in your life? You are not alone.
Recognize that you are never alone. There is always hope.
None of the scriptures say Jesus arose just as the rooster crowed nor do they say anything about the sun’s first rays bringing him to life in the tomb. If Mary reached the tomb WHILE IT WAS STILL DARK and Jesus was already gone from the tomb, when did he rise from the dead? While it was still dark.
God works in the dark. He did it before -- by speaking into the darkness and creating light. Now there was the resurrection of his son. God works in the dark and He is doing so for you. Have HOPE as you navigate the dark paths in your life.
If you’re reading this and need reassurance that you are not alone, please reach out to me, your church, or a friend.
If you ever doubted that God is working in the darkness of your longest night, trust that He is.