The following is the liturgy for a “Longest Night Service” that I have put together over several years (more than a decade) from several sources. It is posted here for the use by colleagues.

On the communion table is a large tray (four feet by two feet) with a couple inches of sand in it. One large lit candle is in the tray and stacks of candles like you would use on Christmas Eve are placed beside the sand tray. As you read through the service, you’ll see why.

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GATHERING MUSIC

WELCOME AND INTRODUCTION

Good evening. Welcome to this Longest Night Service at Niles Discovery Church, where we are united in God’s love for everyone’s journey … no exceptions!

My name is Jeff Spencer, and joining me in leading tonight’s worship are the Rev. Brenda Loreman and Jenny Lin, our organist.

Following the service this evening, you are welcome to stay for some coffee, snacks, and fellowship or to remain in the sanctuary to sit and pray. Our hope is that this evening’s service of worship will make a space for you that meets your needs.

This service is held on December 21 each year because here in the Northern Hemisphere, it is the longest night of the year. Since the Fall equinox, the nights, longer than the day, have been lengthening with each rotation of the earth. Tonight, when things are their darkest, we pause to remember that God’s light drives out the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it.

So, we gather here in the protective shelter of God’s healing love. We are free to pour out our grief, to release our anger, to face our emptiness, to feel our hurt, and to know that through it all, God cares.

During this service we will pray together and hear several readings from the Bible. Some may speak to where you are, to the conditions that draw you to this service on the longest night of the year. After each reading, there will be an opportunity for those of you who feel moved to do so to come forward and light a candle and place it in the sand on the communion table as an act of prayer and a sign of hope. Because each of us comes to this service for different reasons and with different needs, you may be moved to respond by lighting a candle more than once.

This year, we have added a time of anointing. Anointing with oil is an ancient Christian practice, a physical act of prayer for healing of body and spirit.

Throughout the service, there will moments for quiet – to feel whatever it is you are feeling in the presence of God’s love.

I invite you to remain seated throughout the service except when you come forward to light a candle or for the anointing.

CALL TO WORSHIP

Leader: In the beginning was the Word. And the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

People: The Word became flesh and lived among us, full of grace and truth.

L:      In him was life, and that life was the light for humanity.

P:      The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overcome it.

OPENING PRAYER

L:      Let us pray.
Holy One, we look for light but find darkness, we look for brightness but walk in gloom. We grope like those who have no eyes. We stumble at noon as in the twilight.

P:      You are the light of the world. Be light in our darkness, O Christ.

L:      If I say, “Let only darkness cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.

P:      You are the light of the world. Be light in our darkness, O Christ.

L:      Blessed be your name, O God, forever. You reveal deep and mysterious things. You are light and in you is no darkness. Our darkness is passing away; already the true light is shining.

P:      You are the light of the world. Be light in our darkness, O Christ.

All:    Amen.

TIME FOR QUIET

HYMN 125 – “Come, O Long-Expected Jesus”

GOOD NEWS FOR THE EXCLUDED

FIRST READING – Luke 14:15-24

L:      One of the dinner guests said to Jesus, “Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!”

Then Jesus said to him, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.’ Then the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.’”

COMMENT

L:      This story offers hope for those who have no one to invite them. It reminds us that in God’s divine order, no one is excluded. All are invited; all are included; all are welcome.

LIGHTING OF A CANDLE

L:      If you have been feeling excluded, if you need to claim and affirm the truth that God’s love includes you, we invite you to come forward and light one of the candles.

PRAYER

L:      Lord our God, may your fellowship be known by all, including those who feel excluded. Amen.

TIME FOR QUIET

GOOD NEWS FOR THE GRIEVING

SECOND READING – Luke 6:17-23

L:      Jesus came down and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”

COMMENT

L:      This passage reveals that Jesus was well aware of people’s sorrows, yearnings, and suffering – and that he offered a promise of something different.

LIGHTING OF A CANDLE

L:      So, if you have been suffering from a loss, if you have been sorrowing, yearning, grieving, you are welcome to claim the hope of Jesus’ promise by coming forward and lighting a candle.

PRAYER

L:      Lord Jesus, light of the world, bring some warmth and light to those who mourn, who hunger and thirst, and who weep. Amen.

TIME FOR QUIET

GOOD NEWS FOR THE WEARY AND THE HEAVY-LADEN

THIRD READING – Matthew 11:28-29

L:      Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

COMMENT

L:      When burdens get piled on top of other burdens, the load can crush us. In his promise, Jesus says that there is another way to carry our burdens – by being yoked in labor with him.

LIGHTING OF A CANDLE

L:      If you feel burdened, needing someone to carry on with you, please come forward and light a candle.

PRAYER

L:      Jesus the light of the world, Jesus our brother and friend, we don’t ask you to shoulder our burdens for us – just that you help us to carry them, so that we may carry on. Amen.

TIME FOR QUIET

HYMN 119 – “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”

TIME FOR QUIET

GOOD NEWS FOR THE RESENTFUL 

FOURTH READING – Hebrews 12:14-15

L:      Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.

COMMENT

L:      The writer of Hebrews reminds us that, despite our resentfulness, despite our resistance to forgive, we can act in ways that move us and those around us to peace and wholeness.

LIGHTING OF A CANDLE

L:      If you need a healing from your resentment, you’re welcome to come forward and light a candle.

PRAYER

L:      Lord our God, may healing come. Bless us with your wholeness and reconciliation. Amen.

A TIME OF QUIET

 

GOOD NEWS FOR THE DEPRESSED AND ANXIOUS

FIFTH READING – Psalm 46

L:      God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

COMMENT

L:      When anxiety overwhelms, when depression weighs us down, it can seem as if there is not sure footing. But this psalm reminds us that God is good and is faithfully with us no matter what troubles us.

LIGHTING OF A CANDLE AND ANOINTING

L:      If you need to claim the promise that God is always with you, please come forward to light a candle.

PRAYER

L:      Help us to be still, Holy One, and to know that you are God. Easy the burdens of our anxieties and depressions. Help us to know with our whole being that you are our refuge. Amen.

TIME FOR QUIET

BLESSING OF THE OIL

L:      Great Physician, giver of health and salvation, we give you thanks for the gift of oil. As your apostles anointed many who were sick of body and spirit, so pour out your Holy Spirit on us and on this gift that is may be a vehicle of healing for all who are anointed tonight. May it bring comfort to those who suffer, courage to those who feel afraid, patience to those who feel overwhelmed, and hope to those who are lost. In your many holy names we pray. Amen.

GOOD NEWS FOR EVERYONE (Brenda)

SIXTH READING – Psalm 121

L:      I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

COMMENT

L:      No matter what life throws at us, God is there, surrounding us with love.

LIGHTING OF A CANDLE AND ANOINTING

L:      At this time, we invite you to come forward and light a candle if you are dealing with an issue that we have not named, or as an act of prayer for someone else, or to offer thanks, or for whatever reason you may have. You may also come forward to receive an anointing, or to both light a candle and to receive an anointing.

PRAYER

L:      Loving God, our help comes from you. Continue to love us as you have promised. Amen.

TIME FOR QUIET

HYMN 144 – “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

TIME FOR QUIET

PRAYERS OF RESPONSE 

L:      Aside from our singing, most of our service has been in silence, so now we have an opportunity to give voice to our prayers, to offer our hearts to God by sharing our concerns, our hopes, and our thanksgivings. Your prayer will become the prayer of us all when we respond, “O God, hear our prayers.” So, when the Spirit moves you, if the Spirit moves you, speak aloud your prayers.
Let us pray.

SEVENTH READING – from Isaiah 9

L:      The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken.… For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

HYMN 145 – “Silent Night”

BENEDICTION (Jeff)

L:      May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and the rains fall soft upon your fields. And until we meet again, may you be held in the warmth of God’s hand. Amen.

POSTLUDE

We invite you to stay for coffee and fellowship after the service today.

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