Last night was our Longest Night service at Skyland UMC. I began the service in 2013 after attending one at another church during a very dark time for my soul. It was so healing for me at this time of year that I felt called to widen the circle and offer it our church. This was my message last night. ~cameron
Back in September, I had the unexpected opportunity to drive the Blue Ridge Parkway from Waynesville to Asheville. Even though it was a lovely sunny day, very few people were up there—it couldn’t have been more perfect bec/, you see, I was beginning to make that internal shift from summer into autumn. While autumn and winter are my favorite seasons, I also approach them with some wariness as my depression heightens at this time of year.
Getting outside or going up into the mountains to be in God’s creation is very comforting to my soul so ending up on the Parkway that Saturday was a nice surprise. As I traveled down the mountain after Pisgah, I approached the longest tunnel between there and Asheville. If you’ve ever been up that way, you know that tunnel because it is the only one that you cannot see beginning and end at the same time. There is a bend in the middle where it is completely dark.
As I approached the entrance, I slowed down to a crawl. As I drove into the darkness, I glanced in my rearview mirror and realized that the light was slowly fading and ahead of me grew darker. It almost felt like a metaphor for how I enter each year into autumn and winter—I see the light of summer slowly dimming behind me and the way ahead seems to darken. I can’t do anything but travel forward bec/ that’s the direction I need to go to get to the next place.
Sometimes that’s how life can be for us—we enter a season that feels like a tunnel. Whether it’s grief or pain or life in general—we can see the light of past happiness or contentedness and we find ourselves propelled forward on a darkening path. It can be disorienting, uncomfortable, and challenging.
So take a moment, and think of yourselves in the bend of that dark tunnel. There is light that has disappeared behind you, and you believe yourself to be in complete darkness. Yet if you sit in that tunnel with your eyes wide open, you notice something. You begin to perceive shadows and edges. There is just enough light in that darkness that helps orient you to the space you’re in and even centers you a bit in that darkness.
That’s where we are tonight, on the longest night. We have the least light available to us but if we open our eyes and our hearts, we can still sense the light there with us. Just like Immanuel, God with us. Jesus didn’t come to remove all darkness, sadness and pain—rather, he came to bring a new light, a new hope, a new peace.
For those living in darkness then and those who experience it now, Jesus serves as the light at the end of the tunnel. A light so strong and far reaching that even when we are at the darkest point, we still are still assured that God is with us. And that as we move forward on the path through this particular season or time or experience, that light will guide us to the next point on our journey.
Know that in this place here tonight, you are not alone. Some of us here are grieving or struggling, lonely or lamenting. Some of us are caregiving to people in need. Some of us are here to just be. Whatever reason brought you here, know this—the birth of Jesus reminds us that the light of God’s love is there for us, with us and in us. Each of us, all of us. Amen.