Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog


Christmas Eve 2011 at UUSS: Prayer, Readings, Homily

Family Minister, Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento

 

Christmas Prayer

Please take a moment to feel settled for a time of reflection and prayer.  Feel your body in the seat, your feet on the floor.  Feel the breath of life rising in you, and then feel it reaching out and mingling with the air, which joins us to all of life on this earth, in all its generations.

Feel your hopes for this time together this night.  Feel your hopes for this season.  Your hopes for those you care about, those in your heart or those held in your prayerful intentions.

Recognize your hopes for this whole world, with all its pain and its dangers and threats.  Recognize your gratitude for this whole world, with all its beauty and its resilience and creativity.

Take a moment to acknowledge that every human life—including yours—holds mysteries and questions, and doubts.   See if you can relax just into a more open acceptance of the gift of life and its questions.

Let your heart receive what it needs as I offer these further words of prayer.

Spirit of Life, Source of Love, on this holiday night, we pause to give thanks for life in all its abundance and all its mystery.  We give thanks for the people, places, and experiences that have sustained us this past year.   On this night of worship and rest, we remember and give thanks for those who are working, especially those who are caring for others or keeping us safe.

We remember those around the world in zones of conflict and oppression, the ones who serve there and the ones who call those places home.  Let us give thanks for those returning safely from military service in Iraq, and remember those still serving abroad.   We remember also the refugees, exiles, and prisoners. We long for the end of conflict and pain for all people, for everyone in every land.   Let us pray–and hope and speak and work–so that all might soon come to know the gift of peace, which is the message of this holiday, and its promise.

Let us remember that each one of us is able to give gifts to others, starting with the gift of our authentic presence.   We can receive and share the gift of respect and kindness.  We can receive and share the gifts of listening and encouragement.  We can receive, and we can share, the gift of peace and stillness.   So may it be in these moments, and in the days ahead. Amen.

 

Readings

Book of the Prophet Isaiah, 9:2-7 (KJV)

Gospel of Luke, 2:1-20 (KJV)

Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 2 (The Message translation)

 

Homily

I’m amazed at all the kinds of people who like Christmas.   I know Jews, Hindus, Humanists, atheists, neo-Pagans, ex-Christians and people not elsewhere classified who enjoy sending Christmas cards, exchanging gifts–even shopping for gifts amid the rush.  They like decorating their home, and singing traditional carols.  Some folks make it a point to get to a Christmas Eve service, even though they haven’t been to church in ages—well, they haven’t been to church in a year.  They patronize concerts of Christmas music, holiday dramas and comedies on stage and screen.  They show up for The Messiah, and of course the Nativity Pageant.   Even those of us who stubbornly resist going along with the crowd most of the time…will make room in our hearts to say “Merry Christmas” over and over, and almost never to say “Bah! Humbug.”

I wonder:  In our modern secular society, and our consumerist culture, have we concluded that Christmas is merely harmless?  Do we think of it only as a treat of carols, candles, and candy canes to get us through a time of darkness and chill in the northern hemisphere?  Well, that’s a worthy trait for Christmas to have, but it’s not the only one.   And:  Christmas is not harmless.  I mean the story of Christmas, the divine and human story that gets the whole thing going in the first place.  The story that is the reason for the season… is full of danger.

It’s a story of wonder and love, to be sure.  It’s got a donkey, sheep, cows, and other animals in a stable.  But it’s a story of danger too.  As we’ve heard, the Gospel writers explain that Joseph and Mary journey to Bethlehem because Joseph is from there.  He has to go to his hometown in order to register for the census of the Roman Empire.   “There went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed” –this is how the King James Bible says it.

All the people going to and fro, heading back to the places they had left behind.   The roadways–full, crowded in all directions.  No Greyhound bus, no Southwest Airlines, just animals to carry you, or your own two feet.  Robbers and Roman soldiers no doubt find easy pickings among the vulnerable travelers.

When Joseph and Mary arrive in Bethlehem, the innkeeper has no place for them.   They share space with farm animals, and she gives birth in a stable rather than at home or in a midwife’s tent.  In those days, infant mortality was a high risk, as it still is today in places of poverty, oppression, and military occupation.  Mortality in giving birth was a high risk also.

In the wilderness, shepherds guard their flocks against predators.  They’re used to being alone out there.  All of a sudden a strange figure appears and calls out to them.  They are “sore afraid,” the story says, even though the Angel of God says: “Fear not!”  Good news comes in a flurry of wings–more angels arrive, with a chorus of praise for this child.  The shepherds follow instructions, risking loss of life or at least loss of some of the flock, as they travel into Bethlehem.

Wise men, coming from afar, follow a dancing star.  Perhaps they have a safer trip than the shepherds and the family. Yet they make a deadly mistake.  They ask the emperor’s local rep for directions to the Christ child’s location.  King Herod, as he’s known, does not hear their good news as good, or as anything but a threat to his status as a local ruler, and to Caesar’s power as a god-and-king in one.  The wise men find the baby in the stable.  After kneeling to offer gifts fit for a king, the wise men head home.  Yet they take another way, avoiding Herod.  In his rage, Herod orders genocide–all the firstborn sons.  The holy family escapes the ensuing raid, but countless others do not.

This is not a story just about a baby being born, it’s about a baby who will challenge accepted power structures, who will try to bring peace, generosity and kindness to a world accustomed to anger, greed, and brutal force.  This baby becomes a prophet.

In these Gospel accounts, the grown-up Jesus proclaims this message:  “Blessed are you poor ones, for to you belongs the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who are hungry, for you shall be satisfied.”  But then he says: “Woe unto you that are rich! For you have received your consolation.”  In other words, you’ve already taken about all you’re going to get.

The people in the original Christmas story know of the danger of being born in such a time and place as they inhabit.  But can they know of the danger that this baby’s deeds will bring?  Can they know what his teachings will inspire, and how far they will spread?

How can any of us know what potential resides in any human being, even in a child we nurture and know as our own?  How can we know what any particular birth will lead to?

That simple stable-birth turns out to be an earth-shaking, mind-bending, eye-opening, heart-filling and heart-breaking challenge to that baby’s parents, the rabbis, the Romans, the whole wide world.   But you can say that about any birth, any child.  I don’t have one of my own, but I’ve listened to some of you, and that’s my impression of the experience of parenthood.   It’s an earth-shaking, mind-bending, eye-opening, heart-filling and heart-breaking challenge.

How can we know if any given child will challenge the ways of the world later on:  the astronomer in Europe who says the sun does not revolve around the earth, but the earth around the sun… the nonviolent protestors in India who face the bullets of the British Empire?  How can we, who bow to greet any new children, predict which ones will show great courage: the African Americans who will not budge from lunch counter protests or let police dogs and water cannons turn them ‘round…  Or the college students and other activists of recent days, who “occupy” public parks across the land, calling for economic fairness, and risking pepper spray or a beating as they spark a new movement…  Or the Arab citizens who rise up finally against dictatorships, the Burmese democracy activists, the Chinese dissidents.      So many stories show the faith and courage that reside in every person—in everyone’s heart—and everyone starts out as a child!

How do we know what child will be a philanthropist, a teacher, a cherished volunteer, a health professional?  What child will be a patient parent, loving partner, an actor, an athlete, a good friend?

What child won’t make it?

What child will face medical needs or emotional struggles in life so great that it will draw out of you courage and endurance you could not have expected of yourself?

The Christmas story is, indeed, one of possibility and of danger.  Promise and chance.

 

What children will be hardworking custodians, cooks, farmworkers, musicians, artists, clerks, or inventors of new technologies?  Which ones will be givers of military service, social service, automotive service, or givers of care in nursing homes and nurseries?  So much potential, in every human life.

Once we draw near to the Christmas story, we can see its theme of danger, and the risks of human life in any age of history.  We remember that it’s dangerous to call into question the unjust ways of the world.  But what calls us, what draws us to the story, is the surprise of the situation and all its characters.

This unlikely story shows the unshakeable simplicity of life–and the gentleness and generosity of human life.

It shows the power of divine love and human goodness, the power to shine amid the shadows of the world.  It shines, and it shows the way to the gifts of life:  the way of patience, kindness, encouragement, and courage.

May we walk this way with one another, and may we help one another.  Let us all help to show the way, as we make our way to the gifts of life.

So may it be.  Amen.

 

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2 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thank you, Roger. That was beautiful.

Comment by ginger

Thanks for your thoughts, Roger.

“…amazed at all the kinds of people who like Christmas.” I agree, plus want to add one group that I never thought about in the celebratory affiliation.

I traveled to People’s Republic of China in 1997 for about 9 weeks. Two things really stood out for me in the globalization one-world area: 1) Amazing number of Karaoke bars, even karaoke in private homes & gatherings. 2) Christmas decorations, store windows with Santa Claus, Rudolph, sleighs with loads of gifts and sleighbells, Christmas sales, gift displays, and on and on! And this was during Spring and early Summer, not in December!

Apparently it’s a year-round celebration for them. I was there from March until May, not at all in the Christmas season. But the Chinese Everyman seems fascinated by the Christmas festival. I saw the displays and gifts and sales everywhere, in Shanghai, Beijing, Fuzhou City, Guilin, Xian, and throughout even the small cities and rural areas of Fujian Province, where I was visiting. Oh, yes, and Christmas carols and music are available in the store displays, and everywhere via karaoke popularity.

Interesting, what remains strong in my recollections…enormous bicycle traffic jams, ubiquitous cell phones, morning Tai Chi gatherings, amazing number and rate of skyscraper construction, Christmas revels, karaoke, and the terrible bathroom facilities.

–ernest

Comment by ernest perez




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