Longest Night

October 17th, 2013
Exodus 20:21

For this worship service votives in purple and white were used, with five pillar candles (four purple, one white). See the rotating pictures below.

Order of Worship (service notes)


(Light the pillar candles representing the Advent wreath just before people arrive, then extinguish them as the service begins.)

Today was the shortest day of the year. And along with the shortest day comes the longest night. If you were to get a glance of your shadow on this day around noon, it would be the longest shadow you would see all year. We are in the middle of a season of great joy and light. But for many of us it feels more like a season of great darkness and shadows. The festivities going on around us bring a great contrast to our own situations: loneliness, grief, loss, separation, pain, sickness. Tonight we gather to acknowledge the contrast we feel inside. Tonight we gather, maybe wondering if God has really come in Jesus. Tonight we gather with some who we know, and others we don’t—yet we are a family brought together by brokenness. Tonight, I invite you to be honest and vulnerable, for God has promised to meet us here and welcomes us just as we are.

Instrumental Reflection

  • soft reflective electric piano was played during this time
  • suggestion: O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Voices from Scripture

(different people sitting in the congregation read scripture)


Words of Hope: The Darkness Where God Was

Throughout the Bible, people expressed their lament to God. In the book of Psalms—a book of worship—complaints, anger, frustrations, tears and bitterness were often laid bare upon the table. People of Jesus’ day would show their sorrow by wearing scratchy sackcloth, tearing their clothes, and putting ashes upon their face and head. Somewhere along the way, however, we began to think that this was not o.k. We do the opposite—we wash the tears from our faces, put on our best clothes, our best smile to show God, and others we are handling our troubles just fine.

Tonight is an opportunity to be honest before God. It is an opportunity to acknowledge grief and sadness. It is an invitation to let the disappointments you carry bring you into deeper relationship with God. I have said before—many think the mountaintop experiences are what draw us closer to God—but tonight I want us to consider the ways that God works most powerfully in darkness.

For example, the very first words we find in scripture: Genesis 1:1-2 says:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

We do not get to the famous words “let there be light” until verse 3—but let’s not miss there was something going on before that. The earth was formless and empty, yet God’s Spirit was present there—hovering in the midst of that darkness. Tonight you may feel empty. There is hope for you, the hope of the Spirit stirring in your darkness, laying the groundwork for the anticipation of a powerful new day.

Later on God’s people were wandering in the wilderness, and God called Moses to him on Mount Sinai. God’s presence became associated with this mountain and yet it was surrounded by thick clouds and darkness. Exodus 20:21 says,

The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.

Moses entered the darkness where God was. In the Psalms, David asked of God, “Where can I go from your Spirit or flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens you are there, and If I make my bed in the depths you are there.” Moses entered the darkness where God was. Even in the midst of what seems scary, disorienting, confusing… we can know that God is there. Take a moment to reflect on the times you have sensed God’s presence with you even in the darkness. Maybe a phone call from a friend, a song that played on the radio at just the right time, a word from the scripture that spoke to you. Maybe even here in this place tonight you sense that God is near.

We call this season Advent. It is a time when we remember the coming of Jesus on a dark night so long ago. We rush to put up trees, to decorate, to see bright lights and tinsel on every corner. Yet those who were waiting, hoping for a Messiah to appear were living in a very dark time. They had gone on for generations being separated from each other, being ruled by others, and feeling as if God were silent. Isaiah describes them as those living in a land of deep darkness. But hear the words of hope he offers.

Isaiah 9:2 2

The people walking in darkness
  have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
  a light has dawned.

Later on in this same chapter, we hear the promise of what that light will be like: for unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. If you are walking in darkness tonight—this story is your story. There is hope for you. For that great light has come into our world and his name is Jesus.


As we close tonight, you will be invited to sit for a time in darkness and silence acknowledging your loss, your separation, your confusion. It may feel a little uncomfortable at first. It is our prayer tonight that we can begin to feel the darkness around us as the embrace of God—a God whose Spirit is hovering ever near to us, a God who is present—maybe even more powerfully in our pain, and a God who promises that it will not be dark forever.

Tomorrow, the days will begin to get longer. It will be imperceptible at first. But over time winter will give way to spring and then summer. May it be the same way as God brings the light of hope into your life.

After a time of silence and darkness, we will light the candle which represents the presence of Christ. You will be invited, when you are ready, to come forward and light your own candle. You may wish to name aloud your sadness to God. You may wish to write it down and leave it on the altar. You are then invited to return to your seat for prayerful reflection.

If you desire prayer, there is space at the altar and someone will pray with you. You may also wish to speak/pray with a Stephen Minister who will be positioned _______________ (determine where in your space and call attention to that space).

There will be no formal ending to this evening. Take the time and space you need and leave when you are ready.

Time of Darkness

(we turned all the lights out and sat in darkness for approximately two minutes)

Then when people were ready they came to light a candle on the table and pray.

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