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Advent day 19: The longest night

12.21. 2017 Posted By: The Mennonite

Marathana Prothro is assistant professor of communication at Bluffton (Ohio) University. She and her family attend Grace Mennonite Church in Pandora, Ohio.

Once upon a time, I would have told you the longest night was Christmas Eve. It felt like an eternity as I tossed and turned, willing myself to sleep so Christmas would hurry up and arrive.

As a child, Advent included lighting purple and pink candles and reading from the Bible. Mostly, though, it was about retrieving chocolate from perfectly perforated frames as I counted the days until Christmas.

Then, anticipation centered on the gifts piled under the tree. I can still smell the Scotch tape mixed with pine needles. I would count and carefully examine my gifts. After completing the nightly inventory, I would lie on my back and stare up at the branches and twinkling lights, dreaming of what Christmas morning would bring.

Fast-forward to today. As much as I still love the magic of Christmas morning, tonight marks my favorite moment of the Advent season. Solstice. The longest night.

Instead of Caboodles, Barbies or a SEGA Game Gear, that which I yearn for cannot be contained within a package or decorated with a bow. No human can gift it to me. Only I can accept it for myself.

What I want, more than anything, is to fully embrace the paradox contained within the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.

This promise is at the core of our faith, but it seems we overly fixate on the birth and rebirth parts of our own stories. I used to think that we only moved through this cycle once. We’re born. Then we die. Then we’re re-born in heaven. Happily ever after. The end.

Perhaps our singular, linear perspective on this life process is a product of the modern world in which we live so distantly removed from creation. We hardly notice the rhythm of changing seasons because we are so entranced by the siren song of busyness. Our daily tasks have made little room on our to-do lists for living, loving and being. Our infatuation with consumption is entangled with our desire for distraction from both the physical and metaphorical deaths that await us all.

It feels as if we have foregone the richness of an existence that acknowledges our smallness and embraces the Divine Mystery unfolding around us. When we acknowledge death as part of our life cycle, we learn to let go rather than cling to that which no longer brings life. We lean into the loss, grief and pain. Only in the facing and feeling can we find the courage to let go.

For me, this gut-wrenching, utterly exhausting process always births something new—new strength, new courage, new hope, new wisdom, new life. The longest night and longest day have become some of the most meaningful and sacred spaces in which I hear God’s voice whispering comfort and hope to my soul on these journeys.

Hebrews 1 begins, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets…”

Our agreement to live and worship apart from creation, consciously and unconsciously participating in the powers and principalities that benumb us to the suffering within and beyond us, has further removed us from the many ways God speaks to us through the rhythms and beauty of the natural world.

As I have reflected on this verse, I keep coming back to the image of my ancestors listening to God in various ways that we have forgotten. I imagine them at peace in the darkness, having completed their family rituals, unafraid because they recognize God’s presence in death and God’s promise of rebirth. I wonder what they anticipated as they laid under the trees, gazing up at the twinkling stars, dreaming of what was yet to come.

Where does your soul find itself tonight? Whether you are weary or at peace, remember that night is a time for rest. Resist the urge to power through, fix or ignore what simply is. On this longest night, I invite you to join me in holding vigil for the ways God may be whispering in response to that which our souls desire.

Read previous Advent reflections and sign up to receive our 2017 daily Advent devotionals in your e-mail inbox.

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