I was a really scared little kid. The time of the day that was always most terrifying for me was bedtime. I hated going to sleep. I’m the kind of person who feels less anxious with more information. The more I know, the more secure I feel. So the idea of shutting down my senses for eight or nine hours of the day was horrifying. All night, I would have no information about what was going on around me. Who knows what could be happening in those hours? A burglar could crawl in through my window. A fire could start in my closet. Goblins and vampires could do a jig around my bed, and I wouldn’t have any idea…until the moment I woke up being burgled or consumed in flame or eaten by goblins and vampires. I mean, how could you know that you were really going to wake up in the morning and things would be ok?
As an adult thinking back on those nights of fear, I notice that I am no longer afraid of closing my eyes and drifting off into sleep. Along my life’s journey, I have gradually come to believe that I am probably going wake up in the morning and everything is probably going to be ok. The difference between then and now? Unlike when I was a child, now I have thousands of memories of going to sleep at night and waking up just fine in the morning. (And I have exactly zero memories of waking up in the middle of the night being burgled or consumed in flame or eaten by goblins and vampires.)
Those memories of mornings really make a difference. Remembering that there have been many past nights that have given way to mornings gives me the courage to endure one more evening. Not only at bedtime but in all moments of life when I need to believe that the sun will rise again. We need those memories if we are ever going to find the hope to carry on.
But, sometimes, we face a darkness that we have never experienced before. We really are not sure that the morning will come because it’s never been this bad, never this complicated, never this dire. And those are the moments when we have to look outside of our own individual memories to remember with each other. Those are the moments when we need to turn to the stories of God’s salvation and liberation outside of our own memories. We remember together how God delivered slaves from Egypt, Daniel from the lion’s den, Jesus from the grave. We remember together how God delivered America from Jim Crow, the world from a cold war, South Africa from apartheid. We remember together how God delivered Joe from addiction, Jasmine from self-loathing, Jamie from grief. When we run out of memories on our own, we turn to the memories we hold in common and find the hope we need to face the night.
The psalm we will read this week in worship starts off as one of our collective memories of restoration, remembering a time when the daylight snatched the sorrow away from the night:
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with shouts of joy;
then it was said among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
3 The Lord has done great things for us,
and we rejoiced.
And the second half of the psalm is a prayer and a statement of faith, sung from the depths of sorrow, that God will do the same thing again:
4 Restore our fortunes, O Lord,
like the watercourses in the Negeb.
5 May those who sow in tears
reap with shouts of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
carrying their sheaves.
As we venture into the holiday season, some of us are reaping with shouts of joy—for new children, new jobs, new hope. But we also recognize that some of us are sowing in tears—missing what has been lost, suffering with illness or addiction, searching for liberation that seems elusive. And the only way we get through these nights of despair is together. So this Advent, we sit around in the darkness with each other, telling the stories of God’s deliverance and grace in our lives and in the life of the world until the worldturns and the sun rises.
This Sunday, we observe a Blue Christmas worship service, recognizing that—for many—the holidays can be a time of heightened sadness, loss, and despair. Please join us at 10:30am for a service of dance and healing prayer. Afterward, a group will meet to discuss grief and loss. Read more here about how our healing services began.