The Sound of Silence: Longest Night, December 18, 2018

Special thanks to Rex A. E. Hunt for the liturgy.

SONG The Sound of Silence Disturbed

OPENING REFLECTION
Solstice is a time for candlelight.
It is a time when one desires little more
than family and soft music.

Who can say what passes through our hearts at Christmas?
Strange thoughts.
Undefinable emotions.
Sudden tears.

It is a time to be quietly glad.
It is a time to wonder, to give thanks,
and of quiet awakening to beauty
that still lives on through the strife
of a war-torn world.

And Solstice is also a time for memories and remembering.
For some, the memories are of loved family members
who have died, and the festive season
makes the pain of those losses ever more real.

For others, the memories are of happier times than we know now,
felt as the anguish of broken relationships,
the insecurity around employment,
the anxiety of illness or poor health,
or the emptiness of loss.

All these feelings are with us this night
as we gather in this sacred place.

Here we are safe to feel what we feel:
to acknowledge our sadness,
to share our concern,
to release our anger,
to face our emptiness,
and still to know that God by what ever name,
is made present in the caring thoughts and deeds of others.

So let us be and share and remember and receive,
assured that we are not alone in our life experiences.

SILENCE

SCRIPTURE Romans 8:12-27
God’s power comes to the aid of our weakness—we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but God’s power intervenes with yearnings beyond words. The One who searches human hearts knows what the divine intention is. God’s power and presence intervenes on behalf of the people of God in accordance with the purposes of God.

REFLECTION Silence John Shuck

CANDLELIGHTING I Will Light Candles This Christmas Howard Thurman
I will light Candles this Christmas;
Candles of joy despite all sadness,
Candles of hope where despair keeps watch,
Candles of courage for fears ever present,
Candles of peace for tempest-tossed days,
Candles of grace to ease heavy burdens,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all the year long.

PRAYER

BENEDICTION Litany for Winter Solstice

Response to each line: The light is reborn

In the greatest darkness
Out of winter’s cold
From our deepest fears
When we most despair
When all seems lost
When the earth lies waste
When animals hide
When the leaves are gone
When the river is frozen
When the ground is hard
Shadows are fleeing
Light is returning
Warmth will come again
Summer will be here once more
Plants will grow again
Animals will be seen once more
Green will come again
Life will continue

“Silence like a cancer grows.”

Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence” is a powerful and prophetic song.
It speaks to fear that cripples us and causes us to turn away from what is unspoken
but needs to be spoken.
Silence is a weapon by those who would oppress others.
It allows them to work in secret while suffering people are not heard.

Too often the stories of the victims don’t make the news.
No matter how hard they cry, how hard they try, still…

“no one dare
Disturb the sound of silence.”

The Presbyterian Church in its Brief Statement of Faith speaks to this deadly, cancerous silence:

“the Spirit gives us courage
to pray without ceasing,
to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior,
to unmask idolatries in Church and culture,
to hear the voices of peoples long silenced,
and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace.”

The faith statement knows the contrast between silence on one hand
and justice, freedom and peace on the other.
It isn’t the oppression that is most deadly; it is the silence.

The Spirit’s response is the courage to witness,
to bear witness to what we see and hear.
It isn’t anything dramatic or heroic or even difficult on the surface of it.
Speak. Speak what you see and hear,
not what others in their fear tell you what you should see or hear.

“Do you hear what I hear? Do you see what I see?”

How can we break this deadly grip of silence on our culture and in our church?

It is more than just being loud, like the flashing neon lights.
It is about bearing witness.

Now there is another silence that is not deadly nor cancerous.
This is the silence that comes to us in our yearnings beyond words.
In our weakness, when we don’t know how to pray.

St. Paul writes:

“God’s power comes to the aid of our weakness—we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but God’s power intervenes with yearnings beyond words. The One who searches human hearts knows what the divine intention is. God’s power and presence intervenes on behalf of the people of God in accordance with the purposes of God.”

This is the silence that is the appropriate response to Divine communication.

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence.”

That is not about being silent in the face of injustice, no.
This is the silence that is the response to grace.
This is the silence imposed upon Zechariah
when he couldn’t fathom the miracle
about to be visited upon him and his wife, Elizabeth,
–a son in their old age.
Best keep quiet, Zechariah,
than busy your mind with thoughts too large for your mind.
This is the response to the presence of the Holy.

This is the response when we are too earthly-minded,
too shallow in our thought,
too stumbling in our faith,
when the Divine One “intervenes with yearnings beyond words.”

Then we are known as we know.

“Silence like a cancer grows.” True.

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence.” True.

Both are silence.
One deadly.
The other,
life-giving.

“Spirit intervenes with yearnings beyond words.” True again.

Grief is love that has lost its object.
Grief is still searching.
Grief is still yearning.

It has been six years since we lost our son, Zachary.
I give myself permission to say his name and what I am feeling
during this Longest Night service.
I am grateful that you are here to hear it.
If I don’t say his name on a regular basis,
it is deadly.

The yearning is sharp at Christmas.
So often I have no idea how to pray,
how to process,
how to think or even
how to feel.
The grace is that I don’t have to know how to do any of it.
The grace is that God intervenes with yearnings beyond words.
God searches my own heart,
bringing out what is Divine within.
My heart is known.
In that I trust.

Of course, not just me. You, too.
I am just making it personal.

You may say, “So, God does all that for you, huh?”

That is rather funny.
I wouldn’t have said that six years ago
when I told my counselor that God was like a dead tree stump.
I guess it is true what the prophet said
that a root will grow out of the stump.

I bear witness to that.

No matter what happens, it is good.

It is possible to be changed for the better.
It is possible for one’s heart to be known by God.
It is possible to have a sense of peace about who one is and what one is to do.
It is possible for the healing power of silence that comes from grace,
to be transformed into words on behalf of those who suffer in deadly silence.

It truly is possible to be moved through grief and grace to life and purpose.

For that, on this dark night, I bear witness and I am grateful.