Last night we slept through the longest night of the year. Those of us who got any sleep, that is. Churches held “Blue Christmas” or “Longest Night” services for anyone needing time and space to acknowledge their pain and grief. And if any year deserved such a service where I come from, it would be this one. Usually a bright and joyous time, it has brought a lot of darkness to my corner of the world this year.
Tragic deaths, senseless accidents, domestic violence, missing persons, criminal investigations. In the past two weeks, my tiny home province has seen four young lives lost to the impaired judgment and devastating choices of a drunk driver, not to mention high schoolers arrested for homicide. How do you even begin to wrap your head around such things? These are traumas that shake the very bedrock of small communities. And I’m sure you wouldn’t have to look too far into your corner of the world to find similar heartache.
I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night lately, thinking about grieving parents and suffering children. There is something about the stillness of nighttime that makes those thoughts loom larger than they do in the light of day. But I’ve also noticed that the dark of night seems to bring Heaven a little closer. When I awake with these thoughts, it’s as if my prayers don’t have as far to travel. And thankfully, eloquence doesn’t count when it comes to praying, because all I can think of to say in those moments is, “Lord, have mercy! Be near them!” Last night I’m sure I heard Him whisper back, “I am close to the brokenhearted.” Reminded of that reality, my prayer shifted a little — “Remind them too, Lord. Show them You are near!”
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.Psalm 34:18 NIV
What is it that we really need in the darkest of suffering anyway? Is it counsel or comfort? I’m not sure we need someone to instruct our pain as much as we need someone to inhabit it. As Frederick Buechner once wrote regarding the atrocious sufferings of Job:
Maybe the reason God doesn’t explain to Job why terrible things happen is that he knows what Job needs isn’t an explanation. Suppose that God did explain. Suppose that God were to say to Job that the reason the cattle were stolen, the crops ruined, and the children killed was thus and so, spelling everything out right down to and including the case of boils. Job would have his explanation. And then what? Understanding in terms of the divine economy why his children had to die, Job would still have to face their empty chairs at breakfast every morning. Carrying in his pocket straight from the horse’s mouth a complete theological justification of his boils, he would still have to scratch and burn. God doesn’t reveal his grand design. He reveals himself.from Beyond Words by Frederick Buechner
The heinous darkness of this particular holiday season has reminded me of what is at the core of our celebrations — God revealing Himself, inhabiting the pain of our world and our hearts, making a way from the manger to the cross and through the empty tomb, right into the comfort of His eternal presence, even now.
“Be near me, Lord Jesus. I ask Thee to stay close by me forever and love me, I pray.” I’m singing those lyrics a bit more thoughtfully with my children this year. I’m hugging my teens a little tighter, trying to breathe a little deeper, praying for the knot in my stomach to unravel in true trust. For isn’t this what Jesus has done, what He continues to do? He has promised to never leave us or forsake us and to love us with a love from which no power of darkness will ever be able to separate us.
God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”Hebrews 13:5b NIV
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.Romans 8:38-39 NIV
These are things I need to be reminded of when the dark seeks to dim the light of Christmas. Maybe you need the consolation of His light and love today too? One day all the longest nights will be left behind forever in the dawning of a new unending day with Jesus — our King who was and is and is to come. This is the unconquerable consolation of Christmas.