A MESSAGE FROM PASTOR J.C. AUSTIN: Waiting for the Light to Come

This coming Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent, has the Advent theme of Joy. That is why one of the candles is pink; it goes back to when Advent was primarily a season of personal penitence, like Lent, in preparing for Christ’s return. A Sunday devoted to joy, then, was a kind of interruption in the penitential season to remind us that Christ’s deliverance was coming soon, and that is a cause for great joy.

Joy is not the same thing as happiness, though. As theologian Henri Nouwen has said, “We can be unhappy about many things, but joy can still be there because it comes from the knowledge of God’s love for us.” It is common to decry the commercialism of the Christmas season, but personally, I think the coercive way that happiness and good cheer is imposed on people during the secular Christmas season is a bigger problem.

Many people have very good reasons not to be happy or cheerful right now: they are grieving the death of a loved one; they have lost a job or are miserable in the one they have; they or someone they love is experiencing a crisis; they are estranged from their family or in conflict with them; they have lost a relationship they cherished, or remain in a relationship that is toxic or simply dead. Or many other such experiences of loss and grief, even over the general state of their lives or the world.

That is why, between the third and fourth Sunday of Advent, we are holding a “Longest Night Service.” The name is a metaphorical reference to the longest night of the year, December 21, which happens around this time. But it also refers to the experience of waiting in the dark of night for the light to come. While the rising of the sun is certain, and soon, it doesn’t feel that way when you’re alone in the depths of the night.

So: on Wednesday, December 19, at 6:30 PM, we will gather in the Sanctuary for the Longest Night Service. This contemplative service allows us to acknowledge our sense of loss even and especially in the midst of our joy in Christ’s love for us, to entrust it to God through a candlelighting ritual, and to receive God’s hope, love, joy, and peace through the Word and the sacrament of communion. I am pleased that the Rev. Dr. Sally Brown, former associate pastor at FPCB and currently the Elizabeth M. Engle Associate Professor of Preaching and Worship at Princeton Seminary, will be our preacher for the evening.

I hope that you will join us for this powerful service, and that you will hold all those who need it most in special prayer during this Advent season.

Grace and Peace,