Homily for Longest Night 2023

Ecclesiastes 3:1-11

A season for everything

3 There’s a season for everything

    and a time for every matter under the heavens:

2     a time for giving birth and a time for dying,

    a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted,

3     a time for killing and a time for healing,

    a time for tearing down and a time for building up,

4     a time for crying and a time for laughing,

    a time for mourning and a time for dancing,

5     a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones,

    a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces,

6     a time for searching and a time for losing,

    a time for keeping and a time for throwing away,

7     a time for tearing and a time for repairing,

    a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking,

8     a time for loving and a time for hating,

    a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What do workers gain from all their hard work? 10 I have observed the task that God has given human beings. 11 God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.

Hebrews 10:35-11:1

35 So don’t throw away your confidence—it brings a great reward. 36 You need to endure so that you can receive the promises after you do God’s will.

37 In a little while longer,

    the one who is coming will come and won’t delay;

38 but my righteous one will live by faith,

    and my whole being won’t be pleased with anyone who shrinks back.

39 But we aren’t the sort of people who timidly draw back and end up being destroyed. We’re the sort of people who have faith so that our whole beings are preserved.

11 Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we don’t see.

A few years ago I ordered some candles in glass jars for a project at church. When they arrived, a few of them were broken. Thanks to modern technology, I was able to quickly order replacements at no charge. I even got to keep the broken ones! What a deal! Speaking of broken jars, did you know that we are broken jars ourselves? Instead of glass, we are made of clay:

“But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.” - 2 Corinthians 4:7-10

The clay jars are our bodies, and inside there is a candle. Every time we face a challenge, either in our own life or our life as a society, a new crack is formed. The cracks don’t vanish on their own, and they cannot be wished away. Instead, they reveal the image of God in each of us-- that’s the flame inside the broken jar. We do not just move on from our suffering or grief or anxiety or depression. Everything, good and bad, has its season. The extraordinary power of God helps us endure the difficult seasons, holding each other up in love, never losing sight of the light shining brightly from the cracks into our present darkness.

A few mouse clicks was all it took to replace my broken candles in glass jars, but it’s not that easy to move on from the pain we are feeling tonight. It’s tempting to move on too quickly from weeping, mourning, and losing. We’re ready for laughing, dancing, and embracing. We may be guilty of consciously or accidentally pushing a loved one to move on from their pain before they were ready. One of the great stories of the Bible, the story of Job, includes friends who came to offer comfort but soon lose patience with their friend’s suffering. 

We are in the season of mourning. For God’s part, God brings us comfort, peace, and consolation. It doesn’t remove the pain and grief–only time can do that–but it gives us the opportunity to be consoled and offer consolation to others. We will not stay in this place forever. As the writer of Ecclesiastes proclaimed many centuries ago, everything has its season and rightful time under heaven: giving birth and dying, planting and uprooting, tearing down and building up, mourning and dancing. Whatever season we are living through- our faith carries us from building to tearing down, from crying to laughing, from searching to losing, from keeping silence to speaking, and yes, from mourning to dancing. The Holy Spirit carries us through our time of grief. 

On this longest night of the year, may we boldly embrace the darkness of our pain. Our faith will give us the strength to endure, and the courage to rise in response to challenges. The good news is this: while tonight’s darkness lasts longer than any other night of the year, tomorrow night, and Saturday night, even the nights of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, are shorter. The light and warmth will return. And the darkness will never overcome it.

Hear these words, a sort of affirmation of faith, from Prayers and Litanies for the Christian Seasons by Sharland Sledge:

We find our faith in Jesus,

Who lives among us,

Who calls us together to understand

Life and love as radical commitment to others.

We have faith in one God,

Who created and claimed all creatures,

Who enters our lives with hope and

Redemption and courage to act on our beliefs.

We know that God’s presence

Comes to us in community,

Wherever we seek to know God

By doing justice and loving mercy.

Once we were no people,

But now we are God’s people.

Once we had not received mercy,

but now we have received mercy.

Because all things are possible through God’s love,

We proclaim the gospel in this world

Where God is still creating and redeeming

And making things whole.

Even our broken selves. As the Lord says in the window behind me, “Behold I am making all things new.” All things. Even you and me.