Celebrating God’s Light: A Progressive Christian Solstice

This past year, at my congregation on Cape Cod, we began to celebrate the seasons of the year as part of our affirmation of this good Earth. Our congregation’s proximity to the ocean sensitizes us to the changing seasons, both in terms of changes in weather and population. We chose to make our seaside location, just a five minute walk from the beach, along with our proximity to woodlands and ponds a defining characteristic of our congregation’s spiritual and liturgical vision. Our liturgies often celebrate a Cape Cod state of mind, with emphases on the vastness of the universe, the diversity in flora and fauna, and the unique beauty of our neighborhood.

This year, we chose to initiate quarterly changing seasons’ services. On the Autumn Equinox, a group of twenty congregants and visitors gathered at our village beach (Craigville Beach) to give thanks for the changing seasons and look hopefully toward the coming autumn and harvest time.

Our theme centered on Lamentations 3:22-23:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
God’s mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

We affirmed that the Christian tradition is also creation-oriented and that although God transcends the physical universe, God permeates all creation, bringing innovation, creativity, order, and beauty to this good Earth. God is in all things, and all things are in God!

As we envisioned our seasonal worship services, we wanted to present a complementary vision to the pagan-oriented equinox and solstice services to respond to the needs of seekers in our community as well as to remind ourselves of God’s abundant life and our responsibility to gardeners of creation. Following the vision of certain early Christian teachers, often referred to as the Logos theologians, we affirm that wherever truth is present, God is its source. As a seaside congregation, facing Nantucket Sound on the Atlantic, we also have an affinity with the rugged and earth-affirming spirituality of the Celtic tradition. This led to us sponsoring a Celtic morning prayer service at the outdoor tabernacle in the picturesque Craigville community, a mile from the church.

On December 21 at 6:00 p.m. we will gather in the church sanctuary to celebrate the coming light of God through a Winter Solstice Celebration of God’s Light. Our service will be contemplative, guided by the hymn, “In the Bleak Midwinter.” By then, the winds will be cold off the Atlantic and darkness will descend by 4:30 p.m. We will remember the realities of darkness as the source of fear and also the source of growth and new life. We will celebrate the coming light, in particular, God’s emerging light, described by the prophet Isaiah and the author of John’s Gospel.

On the shortest day of the year, we will live by God’s promises that darkness has a light of its own and that the light of Christ, and God’s universal light shines in all things, guided by the following scriptural affirmations:

 

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Arise, shine, your light has come.
God’s life was the light of all people. (John 1:4)

The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. (John 1:5)

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)

 

Our order of worship will be brief and simple. We want the service to be welcoming to seekers as well as congregants, so we will weave together a tapestry of poetry, scripture, and song. Our service will celebrate God’s light-giving love on the shortest day and God’s quiet presence that nurtures growth in the darkness of life. In the dimness of the sanctuary, we will discover God in darkness and light.

While our planning is still in process and emerges through a creative synergy of the Pastor and Minister of Music, here is our current vision, always subject to transformation in the interplay of divine inspiration and human creativity.

Meditative Prelude

Candle Lighting “A Winter Solstice Prayer”
Edward Hays

Scripture Isaiah 9:2

Hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” (v. 1-2)

Poetry “Black Can be Beautiful”
William John Fitzgerald

Meditative Music

Scripture John 1:-15. 9

Hymn “In the Bleak Midwinter” (v. 3-4)

Poetry “A Winter’s Cloak”
Joyce Rupp

Meditative Music

Reflection “Darkness Has a Light of Its Own”

Community Prayers

Scripture Isaiah 60:1-5a

Hymn “I Am the Light of the World”

Blessing and Affirming God’s Light the Darkness

 

Our hope is to worship on the edge of tradition and transformation, and be a welcoming place for seekers, self-described spiritual but not religious friends, persons bored with church (the “dones”), and Christians seeking new ways to experience and express their faith. Perhaps, a light will shine, bringing forth the fecundity of the winter season on Cape Cod.

 

Bruce Epperly is Pastor of South Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Centerville, MA. He is the author of over 30 books, including Process Theology: Embracing Adventure with God, A Center in the Cyclone: 21st Century Clergy Self-care, and Mark’s Holy Adventure: Preaching Mark’s Gospel in Year B.

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