Longest Night 2013–“Exquisite Darkness”

“Exquisite Darkness”

Longest Night 2013



Welcome and Introduction

Good evening and welcome to this place. You are invited to settle in and relax in this space. We offer this time without joy, without celebration, but to simply be who you are in this place. These are them; the darkest days of the year—winter actually begins on Sunday…It is also a time rife with holiday pressures and activities. Some of us feel overwhelmed with anxiety and busy-ness. Some of us are affected by the absence of the sun and warmth.

For millennia, people have held festivities at this time of year to celebrate the end of the dark time and a return to the light. For while Sunday is the darkest day in the year, each succeeding 24 hours brings a bit more daylight. This reliable movement of the sun gave ancient people comfort as they went into the hard winter; all the while anticipating and trusting that the increase of light would emerge on schedule.


Call to Worship—We are glad you are here; let us worship together.

During Advent, we are called to settle into the exquisite darkness, to hibernate, rest and restore. This cycle was given to us at the time of Creation. We are invited to face the darkness in our own lives and the world around us. The prophets assure us that the darkness will not overcome us. They call us to watch for the light, notice the Light, and be warmed and comforted by it. We are called to wait, to hope, to trust in promises made. As we make this journey, we claim we come alive in both the light and the darkness.


Hymn #84    “In the Bleak Midwinter”

Scripture: Genesis 1:14

God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night. They will mark events, sacred seasons, days, and years.


Name silently, and consider where you have experienced light and darkness during this season…

Take a moment for a time of quiet meditation, a space in which to be with your thoughts, to reflect on the season, what your hopes and dreams are, or, if you cannot go there, where you are at now. This silence is a place to just be; to wait to recognize and to give ourselves over to the rhythms of creation’s seasons.

Scripture: responsive reading from Psalm 22


One: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, so far from the words of my groaning?

ALL: Oh my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer. And by night, but I find no rest.

One: Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.

ALL: I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted in my breast

One: My mouth is dried up like a potsherd and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.

ALL: God does not despise the affliction of the afflicted. God does not hide from me. When I cry to God, God hears me. Thanks be to God!



Sometimes the darkness can symbolize all the negative parts of our lives…

This scripture can be used to help us acknowledge all the times and places when we feel pressure to produce or perform, times when we feel disconnected from God, overwhelmed by dark emotions or thoughts or situations.

You may be feeling hurt, sad, or angry; remembering people you have loved and lost; enduring physical, emotional, mental pain; experiencing the places in your life or the world that are stressful, violent, scary.


Here on the table is a compost pile; a mound of soil that is teeming with little bugs and bacteria. When you look at the soil, it looks static as if nothing is happening. But those little organisms are hard at work, almost invisible to the human eye, creating soil that will nourish and sustain new life as the seasons change and more light arrives.

You are invited to take a scoop of dirt and put it on the pile; symbolizing all that difficult, trying, frustrating, painful stuff that is in your life—to give it over for composting and seasoning.

Inside yourself, offer this all to God’s grace and care; God, who does meet us in the dark. Look toward finding the place of connection and care and the possibility of transformation.


Scripture: Matthew 11:28-29

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves.




The darkness can also be a place of retreat and waiting. This season of exquisite darkness is a time of hibernation for so many plants, trees, animals.

What needs to settle and rest within you?

Write down on paper we gave you when you came in, what needs some tender rest in your life. What needs to hibernate, to be surrounded by darkness in order to be released and maybe come back to you in a new way?

Place your paper in the soil, symbolizing that what needs rest is still yoked to Jesus, still connected to his ways during this time of rest and hibernation.

If we left the paper in the soil, the organisms that are contained in the soil would cause them to compost and process, creating new soil that would provide nutrients from the paper or other by products or left-overs.


Special Music:                 “Heir of All the Waiting Ages”       Andy and Regina Haag

Scripture: John 1:1-5, 9                                                                         Karen Villesvik

Reflection and Candlelighting— We are promised that Emmanuel, who’s coming we celebrate at the end of Advent, will bring the Light. A divine presence and energy that will empower, comfort, sustain, and redeem all of us and all parts of our lives.

Take a minute to give yourself over to the potential and hope and certainty of this approaching Light.

Light your candle, and add it to the table to signify the light that is to come. A new season of hope…


Hymn # 54   “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”


From the rising of the midwinter moon, may darkness and light dance together, O Shining One.

In this season, make us short on grumpy thoughts,

Long on sharing words of gentleness


Make us short on being rushed,

Long on attentiveness


Make us short on seeing what’s right in front of us,

Long on peering into the horizon.


Make us short on out of control to-do lists,

Long on savoring kindness


Make us short on overlooking the dark sky,

Long on gazing at the twinkling stars


Make us short on tradition as habit,

Long on re-owning and re-creating.


Make us short on ignoring the hungry,

Long on making a delicious meal.


Make us short on rushing,

Long on wondering and pondering


Make us short on walking pst those sleeping in the cold,

Long on sharing blankets and tea.


Make us short on longing for what’s next,

and long on savoring the darkness. AMEN




May the sun, moon, and stars glow on you like a great fire. May your rest and hibernate in the exquisite darkness. May you and the whole of the planet be yoked to new life through God’s holy light and holy darkness. In the name of Christ, AMEN





Based on “Exquisite Darkness: Winter Solstice” which was created by Ashley Goff (UCC), minister for Spiritual Formation, and Rob Passow, Director of Music, at Church of the Pilgrims (PCUSA) in Washington, D.C.


“Where the wild things are”, message for 12-08-13

I have a little process I go through each year as Christmas approaches. lt starts when I

see or hear my first Christmas commercial. This fall, that happened the week BEFORE

Halloween. This initial stage of my process is fueled by frustration at those who persist

in pushing the Christmas season earlier and earlier each year. I respond by refusing to

acknowledge this imposition, choosing instead to focus on celebrating the harvest

season and preparing for my favorite holiday-Thanksgiving. As Thanksgiving comes

and goes, I get even more irritated at the louder and gaudier ads that break forth as if a

dam has been opened. I avoid Black Friday sales, conversations about what I want for

Christmas, and listening to Christmas carols or putting out decorations-this is what I

call my “Anti-Christmas phase”. The last part of this transitional process occurs when I

finally merge into the flow of the holiday season-usually as we’re observing the first

few days of Advent. After worship last week, I was actually ready to consider getting the house decorated. Throughout the last few days I have been able to listen to longer and longer periods of music on the all Christmas station, found and pulled out all the boxes labeled Christmas decorations, and even done some shopping on line; as well as in an actual store! The irony is that just as l’m ready to get warm and fuzzy about Christmas we hear this harsh, dissonant, word from the original Grinch himself-John the Baptist. ln today’s reading from MATTHEW, and on the second Sunday of Advent each year, we read of John the Baptist calling us to prepare for the advent (coming) of God’s anointed one. How we are to prepare, according to this John, is very clear (and it doesn’t inv toolve lights, presents or holiday music!): we are to repent/ to turn around / to radically reorient ourselves in order return to our covenant relationship with God. John emphasizes that membership “in name only” in the faith community is not sufficient; those who are a part of it must lead lives that “bear good fruit.” The last verse declares that one aspect of Christ’s advent is the revealing of the kind of persons we really are, a revealing of what is wheat and what is chaff in our lives. The chaff-the evil and injustice– will be burned away.



And so this week, rather than immersing ourselves in festivity and celebration, we are

confronted with this bizarre man “crying out” in the wilderness. We each can probably easily conjure up an image of wilderness-for me the word “wilderness” reminds me of my visits to New Mexico; a dry barren, rocky place where there just a few living things; scarce vegetation-some cactus, maybe a tree or two, the threat of snakes or lizards, almost no signs of human habitation. I am also aware, that I picture New York City as a sort of wilderness. While the presence of humanity and their possessions and past times are overwhelming in the city; there is a feeling of loneliness, isolation, danger, dislocation, uncertainty. lt’s a place that’s wild, barren, where friendly faces are scarce. As commentator Nora Gallagher said a wilderness for her is “A place where there are no houses and no maps: A place of beauty and tests of courage. A place where your guide may be someone entirely different from what you expected.”

The location of the wilderness in our scripture is Judea. lt’s a remote place; far away

from the central location of the empire that is in power. This is one of several

apparently insignificant places that end up being central to God’s purposes-like

Bethlehem and Nazareth. lt is in the wilderness that John is proclaiming the coming of

the messiah- his vision is a dangerous notion, a threat to the powers that be.

The wilderness has figured heavily in the story of God with God’s people. lt was to the wilderness that the Israelites fled during the exodus. It was in the wilderness that God revealed God’s self to those wandering people. The wilderness was a place of testing as they learned what it meant to be in covenant with God, To be sent to the wilderness-a place of desolation and desert- sometimes punishment for those who chose to disobey or abandon their covenant. And here in the wilderness, John proclaims the imminent reign or the coming close of the empire of God. This then—the wilderness—has been, and becomes yet again the juxtaposition of where heaven meets earth.

So I would suggest that as a part of our radical reorientation-or repentance– in order to

prepare to receive the messiah, we consider and learn from the wildernesses present in OUR lives.

As I think about the past week or so for me, the time period when I finally “got with the program” and began to get in the spirit of Christmas, I realize that I moved through some areas of wilderness a bit too hurriedly not realizing the lessons available there to learn about this coming king and kingdom of God.

There were the visits to the hospital and nursing homes; places very much on the fringe of the hype and celebrations that help us feel good about what we do and who we are at this time of year…Here there are protocols, and unappetizing meals, and therapy, and meds, and smells, and shift changes, and illness, injury, pain.

On my periodic visits to the Coxsackie correctional facility, I encounter a strict, militaristic, environment. Here there is absolutely no kindness, no joy, and no hope. There’s search ritual—emptying my pockets, leaving my coat and belongs in a locker, the metal detector scan. The CO’s scrutinize my ID, my signature, the package I bring. Then there’s the journey to the visitation room; the electric buzzing of the opening of each door lock and then the slam of the doors as they shut as we move deeper and deeper into the facility. At precisely 3:00 p.m., my visit ends and, after each prisoner is accounted for, I begin the reverse process of winding my way-yet again accompanied every step- through numerous doors buzzing open and then slamming shut as I leave the building.

The funeral home has its own protocol as folks deal with the grief and loss that accompanies their apparently permanent separation from loved ones. As I move through each funeral service, I am aware that my words are often cold comfort for this reality. Sadness, grief, and frustration are close and present; clashing dramatically with the beauty and warmth of holiday lights and decorations. I have a huge selfish sense of relief as I finish.

As I read the newspaper on Wednesday, I was transported to the refugee camp in Jordan where tens of thousands of Syrian refugees are facing the harsh winter weather –howling winds, torrential rain, cold temperatures that exacerbate the sense of desperation and despair of that war torn people. Just having enough food and shelter to survive so that they might return to their homeland at the end of the war is an almost insurmountable objective.

Each one of these places offer me an experience of the uncertainty and questions of living in desert places. This is tough and sad and not very Christmassy at all. But also, these places are situations that offer and allow a direct experience of what humans are offered in the birth, life, death and resurrection of the one who comes as Messiah. ln every interaction, every handshake or hug, each word or motion, the presence of Christ comes in and lives.

To again borrow the words Norah Gallagher: “ln these places, the moment when heaven met earth had more immediacy. We were nearer to the brink. ln the hospital, soup kitchen, jail, and funeral home, I learned about the bedrock truths of the gospel: why Jesus sat down at the table with “sinners, ” tax collectors, prostitutes, “nuisances and nobodies. ”  I learned things about faith I couldn’t learn anywhere else,.,We often settle for less in our lives. We get too impressed with strength and security or with the status quo. We are not willing to stop for a moment, or go out into the wilderness. An experienced rabbi was once asked why so few people were findingGod. He replied that people were not willing to look that low.”

John the Baptist’s call to repent offers us a wakeup call; an invitation to welcome the coming of the kingdom of God. ln this Advent season, let us all name our wilderness. Where must we go, where is the place to which we are called that is on the fringe, that is lonely, that is distressing, that has no maps, and different guides? Where is the place that reveals new truths, new awakenings? Let us go “where the wild things are”…

Advent Candle-light Devotion and Communion

Thank you so very much for your kind invitation to be present with you all this evening. I know I also speak for the women from my faith community who accompanied me when I say you all are great hosts and cooks!

This is going to be a kind of “Potluck devotion and communion” where I’ve gathered a variety of things that I’ve felt called to share with you, that fall into the wide category of Christmas and Communion. If you will bear with me, I’ll do my best to weave them together into a concoction that will feed and nourish us all for the long, chaotic journey that often comprise these weeks before the holiday

First, I want to offer something that I created when you invited me here a number of years ago—I believe it was 2006 or 7—that helps define my practice and understanding of communion as a Quaker:

One thing that many people tell me that they know about Quakers, in response to my revealing that I am indeed a Quaker Pastor, is that Quaker or Friends “Don’t take communion…” What I want to do now is correct that statement. Members of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers DO seek to experience the real presence of Christ in our worship. As a Quaker, I recognize, celebrate, and give thanks that it is through Christ that I am forgiven and redeemed. What I don’t do as a Friend isparticipate in a ritual or liturgy involving bread and wine or grape juice. This comes from the conviction our founder, George Fox, and his followers had that these rituals were in fact an obstacle to their experience of Christ among them. They felt as if those in leadership in the church often focused on the outward actions of the sacrament, allowing them to become the focus. They also saw many people going through the motions of the sacrament and remaining untouched in their spirits. For these reasons Quakers came to identify and label what they experienced as they gathered and waited together in silence as the time when Christ came and dwelt among them and spoke to them. Down through the generations Quakers persisted in this practice. Today many local Quaker Faith Communities will refer to their time of silent worship, (or as we call it at Adirondack Friends, “waiting worship”) as “communion after the manner of Friends’.

Friends also often refer to “living sacramentally -to letting our lives speak of the presence of the inward Christ who dwelt within us. Quaker writer Howard Brinton points out that “any act is sacramental which is a sincere genuine outward evidence of inward grace.” For me any meal that occurs where those present recognize Christ’s presence among them in the relationships, conversations, and thoughts is a time of communion. So essentially, according to Quaker Faith and Practice, we’ve already been in communion here tonight as we greeted one another, shared food that was lovingly prepared, talked and discussed and laughed together. For, as we did those things, Christ was present among us. It is important to acknowledge that Quaker meeting for worship can also be an empty form, a mere habit, which can fail to nurture its members and attenders. I think this is a part of the human condition-that only as our spirits are engaged do our practices—and that’s ANY practice— have depth and meaning….

Also, this caught my eye in a devotional last week written by Richard Rohr; he’s a Roman Catholic priest who says this about communion: “The deepest level of communication is communion. When we know and love someone we are simply happy to be near them. We feel the power and energy passing between us. That is the power of prayer. That is what we must do to bask in the sunshine of God’s love. The word to us is, “Don’t just do something; stand there!”…To receive the love of God is to recognize that it is all around us, above us and beneath us; speaking to us through every person, every flower, every trial and situation. Stop knocking on the door: You’re already inside!”

Now, that amazing Christmas story from Luke 2…one of God’s gifts to us is that we can always glean new inspiration and insight from a very familiar passage. Last year I learned that United Methodist pastor Adam Hamilton understands the manger and it’s occupant– Baby Jesus who was placed there after his birth– as a symbol for bread.

As Adam proposes, the manger is a symbol that affirms that Jesus is the one who feeds us all-like bread– with what we need that answers and feeds our deepest hungers or desires in life. Bread is one of the most basic, fundamental essentials for Iife. If you don’t think so, talk to someone who has a wheat allergy, and listen to the frustrations of trying to find a worthy substitute for it. Count how many times you eat something from that food group every day. From the earliest Bible stories, bread has been the sign of God’s care for the people of God. Remember the manna that is bread sent by God as the Hebrews wondered in the wilderness? Remember that when they tried to hoard the bread, it spoiled? They could never get to where they could trust the divine for producing it when they needed it? Remember that those folks never saw beyond the actual presence of the bread to who was providing it for them or could understand the lesson in having what they needed when they needed it-that they didn’t need to save or hide-there would always be plenty?

Here, in the birth of Jesus-who is placed in the manger-to be seen as food/bread for all God’s people, God takes it up a notch…God says it’s not only the basic life-giving essentials for physical human sustenance that will be given to you who seek me, but also the deepest human longings of your souls that will be answered in Jesus the Bread. Those desires that every human has to find meaning, hope, joy, love in your life; Jesus will feed those; Jesus will show you how to find those. God loves each of us that much; to allow God’s own Son to be given for our lives. At its core; the Eucharist or communion is a commitment and celebration of those of us who accept and respond to the offer of Jesus as our bread-of Jesus being the key ingredient that sustains our lives.

And finally, a story from my own experience…I am the oldest of the three children in my family of origin. I have a sister—who is just 11 months younger than me, and a brother who brings up the rear—he’s 4 years behind me. It’s my sister who’s been the most challenging for me to maintain a loving, supportive, mature relationship. We’ve always been close; sometimes close adversaries or competitors…Even as adults, it hasn’t taken much for us to revert to the “Mom, she’s looking at me!” stage. Well about 15 or so years ago my sister made me a nativity set. I guess we were friends the week she decided to create it. So, I use it –set it out each year–to celebrate and affirm the good about her and our relationship, as well as because it’s very cute! A year or so ago I was pulling out the decorations at my house, much later in December than I’d hoped. I was feeling some of that holiday pressure to do it all; to get things just right for our celebrations. I took out the tin that doubles as storage for this nativity…(show it) and began to pull out the familiar figures to set into the stable scene…this is how I pack it each year to prevent breakage… I found each piece and unwrapped them…and then I realized it. I was missing Jesus! Well, commence intense looking—everywhere he could possibly be; in other Christmas decoration storage, checking with other family members to see if they knew what had happened to him…Intensity became FRANTIC searching. Where the heck was Jesus?! For 10 days we all looked EVERYWHERE…to no avail. Of course I went ahead and set the rest of the nativity and all the other decorations out, as usual. Every time I went past that stable, I berated myself, my procrastination, my disorganized approach, for my inadequacy on all fronts…

Finally, a day or so before Christmas I was re-locating all the storage containers we use for decorations and I saw the tin. Could it be; would it be that I had simply overlooked Baby Jesus? AND; of course there he was, right where he was supposed to be…

I invite you to continue in our time of communion by entering intentionally into some silent waiting:

get comfortable,

take some deep breaths

notice inside yourself to see if can you hear or feel your own heart beat

Let’s ponder internally a few queries I will pose:

Where did you encounter Jesus in our gathering here; in the face across the table from you, in the music, in the scripture?


What are the parts of Christmas that bring you into that holy presence of divine hope, peace, joy, and love that Jesus brings?


How do you experience Jesus as bread—the source and sustenance of life? How does he function in your days as that essential core that sustains, enables, redeems your life?


What do you need to do or what do you need to lay aside so that you don’t lose Jesus this year?


Gracious God, thank you for this special time of communion at this special time of year. Thank you for each person present, and the ways they each offer their unique and important personalities through their work, worship, and relationships. Help us all to remember that you are present everywhere and anywhere we are or will be.

Help us to recognize, and save space for, and experience, and celebrate the bread that is your special gift to humanity—Jesus the Christ…whose birth is what Christmas is all about.

And now this blessing: May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus, both now and forever more. AMEN