Today is the shortest day of the year. Across the northern hemisphere we have the fewest hours of sunlight that we will have all year. We are facing our longest night.
Each year, the Winter Solstice, the longest night, arrives in the days leading up to Christmas. During the month of December, Christians (and everyone else) hear carols implying that we must all be happy. In the words of a 1980s cartoon character, we should all feel "Happy Happy Joy Joy." Unfortunately, not all of us do.
Those who live on the streets, those with shelter but who are unemployed, those who recently lost a loved one, those who struggle with the dark days of winter, those who are separated from loved ones by war or distance, or anyone who does not - for whatever reason - feel the "Happy Happy Joy Joy" are faced with additional pressures during this season.
Christmas is a time of promise and hope but it is not a time of resurrection. In short, it is reasonable to feel sadness.
In the Christian narrative, Jesus' birth and ministry, his teaching and healing, point the way toward a time when we will not feel the pain but it does not take all that pain away in present.
In the gospel narratives, we see an era of great social upheaval. The religious establishment of the time did not always address the challenges of the people well. The Jewish people remained under siege, under occupation, by yet another power. Most of their history in Israel had been one in which they did not control their own land. The feelings of frustration and powerlessness of the people must have been great. Into this time entered the hope of Jesus. In the storyline, Jesus marked the beginning of a new time in which the suffering would cease. It did not end the suffering.
Our connectedness to challenges, to sadness, frustration, and oppression remains today. To a pregnant woman and her partner, being forced by the government to travel on foot miles to register for the census, must've felt like a great burden. This poor couple could not even find a room at a scuzzy motel. A small candle of hope entered into their desperate, houseless situation when the innkeeper allowed them to sleep in the stable.
That night when the story tells us that the infant was born, Mary and Joseph must've felt bittersweet. The hope of a baby is great but the sadness of laying your newborn in an animal's food dish could not have been what the new parents wanted for their son. And, yet, looking backward from the vantage point of history we know that Jesus' life, death, and resurrection offer hope for humanity.
As we face this longest night of the year, let us acknowledge our pains, our sadness, our sense of despair for our fragmented world. It is real. Our pain is real. Let us also remember that, as our Buddhist friends teach, all things are impermanent. We will not always feel how we feel today. In the birth of an infant, in the kindness of an innkeeper, or the smile of a stranger a candle of hope is lit and a better time begins to unfold.
Feel our pain with us.
Feel our emptyness,
our feelings banned by the happy happy joy joy of the season.
that we do and can feel as we do.
Love us though we sometimes don't even think you exist,
or that you have abandoned us.
Light a candle of hope in us,
as we continue our struggle through this longest night.