December 21 brings with it the longest night of the year. When I was a child the longest night was probably December 24, or maybe October 30, because those nights lead to celebratory days. As we age and the trials of life start to accumulate the longest night with all its darkness seems more and more real.
December 2021 finds me writing in my basement before I head to the office, an office that will be almost entirely empty, there I will prepare to preach to an empty room, again. In a few days the church bells will be mostly silent as we mark a second Christmas apart, where our voices will not resound with classic carols and laughter, no kids in bathrobe playing Joseph and the shepherds.
For others the pains are much more personal and devastating, the critical prognosis, the life partner that has passed on, the parent or child suddenly alone. This can be a long night for anyone sensitive enough and honest enough to take a real look at their life and recall those they have loved, those who have hurt them, and the expectations that never came to be.
When Jesus called the fishermen to follow him he knew that they would come, they all had parts of life they wanted to leave behind, even if they had parts they held to dearly. The bible is realistic and understanding about life, it knows the world to be a cursed and hard place to live in and that despite our best intentions we will all fall short.
It also knows that this is just one night. David, who wrote a bunch of psalms and lead an up and down life, once wrote a psalm that sticks with me. Psalm 18 says, With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. Notice that it doesn’t mean that there are no troops amassed that must be dealt with, or walls that must be overcome, but rather that we are never as alone as we might fear we are when we come upon them. When the wall is up, when the troops are amassed, when the wind is against us, the bible calls us to prayer and to trust.
This is not easy.
I believe that one of the greatest reasons to practice spiritual disciplines, regardless of your theological beliefs, is to be prepared for the inevitable day when you will find yourself facing the wall, or the long night (December 21 rolls around once every year after all). When prayer because a habit or second nature then when our minds start to run and anxiety, fear, or sadness amass in front of us (the troops many of us face) we will be ready to go to our knees and pray. Maybe that is a silent prayer, maybe that is a friend you call whose voice brings you to truth and godliness, maybe it is a journal you take out and write in, maybe it is a hymn you sing or psalm you read, it is not important what the specific is, but rather that it is practiced, trusted, and has become natural over time.
For today, we face the longest night together (even if only in spirit).
If tonight is a long night for you know that Christians around the world gather tonight to pray for people in your situation.
You are not alone.
We are with you.
We are praying for you.
You are worth it.
Together we will leap over the wall, and maybe, just maybe, one day we will look back on it and think, “wow! I can’t believe we got over that one!”