Monday, December 20, 2010

The Longest Night

A tradition has been emerging in many churches. The Longest Night Service is a worship service held on or around December 21 – the longest night of the year – to mark the grieving that might be happening during the holiday season.  When all is meant to be merry and bright, it is important to remember that for many there is sadness in this season.  People who are grieving for any reason will often find their sorrow exacerbated by the loud jolliness around them.  The point of The Longest Night Service is to gather for worship in acknowledgment of this reality, and to bring our suffering into God’s presence.  The service sometimes goes by other names.  Other churches may call it “Blue Christmas” or the simple and inclusive “Memorial Service.”  But I have always liked the idea of the Longest Night Service.  It speaks to the season, and a darkness that will not – despite all indications – go on forever.

I am thinking about this today, because yesterday I attended the funeral of a dear friend.  Eddie Taylor wasn’t actually a close friend.  We were in some of the same organizations and worked together on committees.  But I call him “dear” because he was a dear man.  The numbers in attendance at his service, and those who spoke attested to his kindness, his exuberant personality and his deep concern for the good of the community and the people in his life.  The sadness we felt at his passing was heightened by the knowledge that Eddie, suffering from deep depression, took his own life.  I can only imagine the pain his family is feeling, and my heart and prayers go out to them.

Depression and other mental disorders are the most sinister of enemies.  Unlike any other wound, they are invisible – sometimes even to the sufferer.  Most of us can see and identify physical problems.  If stomach or shoulder were to hurt, we would understand the trouble and take action to fix it.  How much more difficult is it when the problem that needs fixing effects the very part of us that perceives the world?  When the diseased part is the one that that helps us to understand ourselves and guides us in the way we think and act?  How do we cope when such maladies happen in the mind of a loved one, or a dear friend?

As the procession drove to the church, we passed through parking lot of the Board of Education Building. Eddie had served for several years on the Board of Education, and our brief detour was a way to remember and honor his service.  As we emerged from the parking lot, we passed a small Methodist church.  In the front of it was a modest nativity scene, two-dimensional and made of painted wood.  It felt as if we were given a tiny reminder of the hope that lies within this season; that our savior arrived in the middle of a long dark night, a turbulent time in history which was also filled with suffering and confusion.

This spark of hope returned again as my family prepared for our fourth and final Advent dinner.  I have been amazed at how quickly the time has gone, how our four dinners have flown past.  This last dinner went beautifully.  Our meal was Crock Pot Roast, Broccoli Cornbread and Reindeer Cookies.  The roast was as easy as you can probably imagine.  I put everything in the crock pot before church in the morning (plus the potatoes which were purchased, chopped and added between the day’s events).  By evening, it was done.  The broccoli cornbread was very easy to put together and cooked very quickly – valuable on an afternoon with only a short time to prepare the meal.

The Reindeer Cookies were the miracle.  In my ongoing efforts to engage my kids in cooking, I decided on this project thinking they might enjoy creating reindeer faces.  My earlier attempts at their involvement had not been very successful, so I was a bit nervous about this one.  I was afraid they would not understand, or they would be mad because they couldn’t just eat the M&Ms or they would hate the project entirely.  My fears were completely unfounded.  The kids totally got into it.  They understood that they were making reindeer, and enthusiastically put them together.  Unaided, Vivian added the pretzels that were antlers.  When asked if she wanted blue or green M&M’s for eyes (I had diligently separated them), she would name her color, alternating from one animal to the next.  When offered a red or brown M&M nose, she would proudly cry “Rudolph!” and take the red.  She got it!

Dinner was great too.  The kids read their parts of the Advent litany.  We lit four candles and anticipated lighting the white Christ candle on Christmas day when the whole family would be gathered at our house.  Everyone enjoyed the meal.  Vivian even ate the broccoli cornbread without coercion.  Watching green and healthy food go unforced into my kids made angels sing the Hallelujah chorus in my heart.

Jesus came as a tiny baby, almost invisible in the wide world with its hurts and woes.  Still, this one tiny flicker of hope came to mean a new light that was dawning even in that somber night.  In the darkening days of this season, the signs of life are all around us, promising that death is not the end, that the darkness doesn’t last forever. 

This is the heart of our Christmas celebration, the spark of light in the darkness.  We cling to our belief in those tiny sparks; the small victories, reindeer cookies, a helpless infant in a manger.  Within them is the hope that changes everything.

Crock Pot Roast
4 lb. pot roast                    large onion cut up
1 c. beef broth                  1 lb. carrots cut in 2 inch pieces
4-5 potatoes cut up         salt and pepper.
Brown pot roast in a pan on top of the stove.  Add vegetables to bottom of crock ppot.  Top with roast and pour beef broth over it.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Cook for 8 hours on low in crock pot. – Lisa Wade

Broccoli Cornbread
4 eggs                                                ½ c. milk
1 stick melted butter                      2 c. grated cheese
1 box ch. Broccoli, cooked            1 small onion, ch.
1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
Mix all ingredients.  Pour into a 9x13 in. greased pan.  Bake at 350o. – Wavie Lee Mims

Reindeer Cookies
Peanut Butter Cookie recipe                       small pretzel twists
M&M’s                                                               red gumdrops
Divide cookies out as directed but shape into a soft triangle shape.  Place pretzel twist at top on two corners for antlers.  Place a gumdrop on other corner for nose, and two M&M’s on cookie for eyes.  Bake as directed.  (You can also use red peanut M&M’s for the nose.) – Laura Taylor

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