On the longest night

A service of hope for the longest night, 21st December 2022, Matthew 1:18-25                                                                  

Sometimes I envy Joseph the certainty of his dreams. He seems so sure, after a restless night’s sleep, of what he needs, what he is called to do: marry Mary, raise the child, run to Egypt, risk the return home.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, here on the longest night, to have an angel come and say, “Only do this, and all shall be well”?

Except that, even for Joseph, all was not entirely well. Instead, he put his dreams of home life on hold while Mary birthed the child who would become his son, but only through the practice of faith, duty, and love.

For the sake of this chosen family, Joseph would make himself a refugee, seeking asylum in the land once overseen by his namesake, another dreamer. He witnessed an attempted genocide in the land of his son’s birth, and he was persuaded that even the wilderness journey and the uncertain destination would be better for his family than to remain there. Too many still face that choice, even thousands of years after the angels announced peace on the earth.

When his dream summoned him home, Joseph would have found much that had changed. He must have grieved the family and friends whose funerals he had missed while he was in exile. He would have seen how much older his former associates had become, and realized that they were his mirror: this last desert crossing had been harder than the first.

But I imagine that what sustained Joseph was not his dreams, as prophetic as they were, but the waking reality, the dawning realization that he was always, everywhere, in the presence of God: Emmanuel, God with us; Jesus, the Saviour.

Watching the infant nurse, sleep, learn to smile and babble, he remembered the promises of God never to forget nor forsake God’s children.

In the cries of Bethlehem, he remembered that trouble is never far from this life, and that none of us suffers alone.

In the emptiness of the desert, he looked to the stars in the longest and darkest night sky he had ever witnessed, and wondered how many of them were angels, watching over this little family.

As the child grew, and began to ask questions, act out, surprise his parents with unexpected outbursts of emotion or love, he wondered at the capacity of God to be with us, bear with us, in the most human ways; even God, who is supposedly above it all.

And that, I think, is the hope of this longest night: not a dream, nor a destination, but the certain knowledge that we are not alone; that grief, trouble, anxiety, suffering will visit this life, and in none of it are we forgotten or forsaken.

We are not alone. This is what our Communion means: we are here for ourselves, but also with and for one another; and Christ is here with and for us.

We are not alone. Joseph, our ancestor, dreamer and dutiful carer, bearer of the burdens of humanity and holiness, watches our dreams, and remembers, and reminds us, that the angels are attending us, too.

We are not alone. God is with us. May it be enough.


About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing , and Whom Shall I Fear? Urgent Questions for Christians in an Age of Violence, both from Upper Room Books. She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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