On Christmas Eve, churches around the world, including ours, will be filled with brightly dressed, happy families singing, “Joy to the World” with big smiles on their faces. And that’s great! But what if you’ve just lost a dear loved one? What if you’re going through a divorce or a serious illness? What if you’re feeling alone and/or depressed?

Some people just don’t feel like celebrating, and sometimes trying to fake it at a traditional Christmas service makes their situation feel even more painful. This is where HPUMC’s Service of the Longest Night can help.

For those of us who live in the Northern Hemisphere, December 21st is the time of the Winter Solstice, the day of the year with the shortest time between the sun rising and the sun setting (that is, the shortest day and the longest night).

The Winter Solstice was an important time to our ancestors. Ancient peoples knew there was no guarantee they would make it through the long winter, so many developed the tradition of having a celebration feast before the deepest part of winter began. Early rituals that celebrated the Winter Solstice are believed to have been developed because people going through dark times needed something to celebrate.

Since we don’t know exactly when Jesus was born, the early Christians decided to set Christmas during this time also. Actually, it seems completely appropriate that we celebrate the coming of the Light of the World at the very time when our world is its darkest and coldest. Jesus came because the world needed light and warmth. And it still does.

That’s why we have a Service of the Longest Night, an alternative Christmas service for those who need a little extra hope. It helps suffering people receive assurance that they’re not alone in their feelings, and to focus on the true meaning of Christmas.

At HPUMC, our service includes communion and a candlelight remembrance ceremony. The service also features meditational yet uplifting music and devotions on the deepest spiritual meaning of Christmas: Messages like “God loves you,” “you are never alone,” and “there will be a day when there is no more sorrow, no more pain, no more tears.”

Christmas is not a frivolous holiday and it’s not just about joy. Christmas is the most holy and sacred time of year: when we acknowledge the One who loved us enough to enter into our fallen world, to suffer and conquer death, so that we don’t ever have to die.

That’s why even those who are in a time of darkness can find hope in Christmas. By acknowledging our current pain and reaching for God’s future promises, we open ourselves to hope, and the day when we can once again sing “Joy to the World.” In the meantime, there is always reassurance to be found at the Service of the Longest Night.