Posts Tagged Christmas

The Work of Christmas

This sermon was first preached on January, 5th at the UU Fellowship in Huntington. It looks at Epiphany, the day the Wise Men finally found the manger.

I was gifted with a hand-made scarf a few months ago. It’s bright, multi-colored, but not too over the top. Brian purchased it on-line at a site called etsy, where hand-crafters make a living. The scarf looks so good that people stop me on the street to say, “hey, that’s a great scarf!” In fact, I get the compliment once or twice a day, every day. It feels great – people smiling. Strangers – smiling.

It started to feel a little surreal later when I would wear it and go into NYC. It was one thing for suburbanites to stop me at the grocery store or at the coffee shop. It’s another for insular New Yorkers to stop their sidewalk arguments and turn to compliment me. I swear – I’ve had people stop in the middle of a fight to turn and spread the good word my way. And the folks that stop me on the City street come from every walk of life in fact. The magic scarf has turned urbanites gregarious.

Then. One time when I visited the City this Christmas, I was walking through Penn Station and a woman came up to me and asked, “did you get that scarf online in October? I think that’s my scarf. I made that scarf.” The knitter was, in fact, from the right state of origin – (Virginia) and was the right name – (Caryn.) I complimented her work, and passed on the word that every single random stranger seems to love it, and we went our separate ways. What followed was feverish texting to Brian to share the strange news, and confirm all the facts because I still didn’t believe it. But she checked out. What was the chance that the knitter was 500 miles from home and just happened to run into the new owner of her craft – at the right spot  – at the right time – in Penn Station to say hello – and I didn’t just ignore her and walk away…. It was a real Etsy Miracle on 34th Street!

Now when I think about how disconnected we can become in an age of the internet; with folks living further and further apart; with families across the globe and neighbors not knowing one another’s names; and unchecked electronic devices that can make us feel alone at a party or over the dinner table – this kind of story gives me hope and a little perspective. The absurdity of running into that particular stranger when we’re both away from home in a city that has 18 million people commute through it every day, tells me that it is in fact possible to live in this world full of humans and choose to maintain and strengthen our connections with the people in our lives. If I can run into that particular knitter, we can make or maintain just about any connection – if we’re committed to it. But often, we’re not.

When we moved into our new home, we got to know the two neighbors on either side of us. And at one summer BBQ, we got to meet a lot more of the extended neighborhood. But more or less, we are quiet neighbors that have busy work lives and with the onset of the winter months, the casual day to day sidewalk conversations have happened less and less. We live on a curve in the road where the road forks. Well, when it snows like this past Thursday, the neighbor across the fork helps out everyone he knows. And by “helps out” I mean he owns a bulldozer. We never got around to making the connection with them when we moved in this Summer, and so he didn’t include us in his clearing out of driveways. Alas.

It’s a small point – and it’s not the reason to make friendships or develop relationships with strangers. But there are some real benefits of living in community and putting real work into developing that community. We can’t always make it happen with everyone, nor do we have the energy to necessarily do so with everyone we may wish we could. But usually there are more connections we could foster or maintain than we otherwise do. One neighbor knows all the ins and outs of all the rules and schedules in town. Others are fire chiefs, or nurses, or police officers. And one has a bulldozer. There are things that we each are better at than the other, and when we’re generous with our gifts – when we give what we are best at – and everyone else does the same – the community thrives.

It’s the principle of socialist structures like “the fire department” or “the snow plowers.” There are a lot of things I’m rather good at in life – but if you’re relying on me to shovel out Route 25, or carry you down a ladder, over my shoulder, out of a burning house – it’s just not going to happen. There are better people to rely on for those services. And that’s true for each of us. We sometimes buy a little too deeply the myth that we can do it all alone. I have a hard time remembering to take the trash out on Wednesday and Sunday – I’d have no clue when to plow the fields.

This is one of the disciplines of religious community too. We all come here for so many differing reasons. We’re all at different stages in our lives, and we all have somewhat different needs. But in congregational life – the building up of community is one of those disciplines we have to put some back into. I hear many stories here of people caring for one another in times of loss or times of need. People hosting dinners for the holidays for those who can’t or aren’t traveling. There are those who help keep our roof up, and our floor safely on the ground around here, or who care for our kids when we’re not around. Sometimes things are really bad, and the help we give means even more.

If you’ve been coming here for a little while now, or casually for years, challenge yourself this new year to make a new connection here. Coffee hour is a good start, but it’s not for everyone. Read through our laundry list of announcements when you have a chance and check out any number of the activities, services and groups we have open to all. You never know whom you’ll find who’s a mean knitter or owns a bulldozer just when you need. (And if you find the latter, get me their number.)

In the Christian calendar, today traditionally marks Epiphany Sunday. It’s the 12th Day of Christmas, as the carol goes, and it marks the day the Wise Men finally reached the Manger with their gifts after a long road from the East. They didn’t quite know what they’d find, and they didn’t quite know where they were going, but they were committed, and despite all the absurdity of it, they somehow managed to find that manger in the middle of nowhere. And the really, really absurd part of that story is after trekking through the desert on a road to nowhere, they came ready to share their gifts, not quite knowing who they were giving them to, or what would come of it. But they shared their gifts anyway – knowing deep down – that this sign mattered. Their story is the paragon of commitment and generosity. Two thousand years later, we still mark their journey, with celebrations, in our songs, and in our pageants. We teach our kids this combination somehow matters – it’s somehow noteworthy.

We often don’t focus on them though at this time of year. The Christmas season is over. We’ve absolved ourselves of the battle and let the stores redefine the season with toy-giving almost being the point – or certainly the high-point – of the holiday. I saw friend’s photos on-line showing drug stores on December 27th whose aisles already were ready for Valentine’s Day. Pack up one holiday and prepare ye the way to the next. But if we remember the magi story – we’re a people that have heard of the birth of a prophet – and now – now -we’re on the road to change our lives in light of the teachings that will come of him.

The core of those teachings we’ve heard once more in our chalice lighting and our choir songs. Howard Thurman’s poetic rewriting goes again “When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.” The first of those five things are the core of Jewish and Christian teachings, and you would be hard pressed to find any disagreement about those teachings in Islam (which also sees Jesus as a prophet), Buddhism or Hinduism. The ethical drive in our religious tradition is to care for those in need. Whether they are sick, hungry, without shelter or warmth, and to free those who are bound.

That is the work of Christmas. That is the reason for the season. We celebrate the birth of this prophet because of the impact of the teachings of this prophet. And in commitment and generosity we honor the life of this prophet by doing our best to tackle these challenges. Like building relationships with those in our community, we may not be able to help with each of these, but our religious life calls us to try for at least some of them. This congregation has a strong, on-going and long-term commitment to many of these – as a congregation. Our community-based commitment to cold-weather shelter for homeless or migrant men – HIHI – is addressing a major need for shelter, food and clothing. This is the work of Christmas. This is what the manger scene was about. Likewise, the other community based clothing drives that seem almost perpetual are addressing a major need – whether due to poverty or the all-too many families still recovering from Hurricane Sandy. This is the work of Christmas. This is what the manger scene was about. Although individuals may be working on prison reform – personally I feel this is another area where are congregation has room for growth in our ministry to the community. This too is the work of Christmas. This is what the manger scene was about. 

We can’t do it all, and sometimes we’re at a place in life where we can’t do one more thing. Or maybe we’re going through a time of crisis and need the help ourselves. There’s nothing to be ashamed about that. We all need help at times. We all fall under bad luck at times. If you feel like you’re in need of help, please reach out to me. This congregation will help as best as it can. This too is the work of Christmas. This is what the manger scene was about. It’s not about gift-giving. It’s about community building. And it takes all of us.

  This month’s theme is commitment. I encourage you to use the new year to stretch in the best ways you can. To care for yourself a little better. To care for the world around you a little better.  And if you’re not in a place to take on one more thing – use this time to deepen your ties to the community that takes each of us to build up. Our congregation becomes more resilient the more each of us supports one another. Maybe we individually can’t take on the wrongs of the world – but in caring for one another maybe you’re giving another person the strength and resources they need to do so themselves. Religion is a team sport. Community is a team sport. Sometimes we make the goal. Sometimes we make it possible for another to make the goal. And when the stakes are health, wholeness, compassion, shelter, and justice – it only matters than someone makes that goal. Commitment to those goals. Commitment to building our neighborhoods – one relationship at a time.

And by the way, after I finished this sermon, I went out for our third round of shoveling to finally clear the driveway. We had about 1/3 more to go. The neighbor with the bulldozer saw us, took pity on us, and in 30 seconds cleared out what would have taken us 30 minutes. Sometimes we don’t do anything, and people are just plain kind.

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The Shepherd Who Stayed

This sermon was first preached for our 7pm Christmas Eve service in 2013.

When I was a child around Christmas time, I remember getting into my pajamas at night and laying down on the carpet of our den and listening to the 24 hours of Christmas. It was a radio station in my area that was taken over by the holiday – probably the same in many areas – that would play Christmas music straight through with no commercials. It was so important to me that I would ask my parents to record it on cassette tapes – a relic now from another time. Each year, I wanted to somehow capture the feeling of Christmas, and the little kid in me was sure recording the sounds of the holiday would help me to hold onto the spirit of the holiday a little bit longer.

There’s a classic Calvin and Hobbes cartoon from my childhood that is just a single panel long. The picture of the boy and his tiger shows them curled up asleep in front of the fire. The words read, “Christmas Eve — On window panes, the icy frost – leaves feathered patterns, crissed and crossed, but in our house the Christmas Tree is decorated festively, with tiny dots of colored light that cozy up this winter night. Christmas songs, familiar, slow, play softly on the radio. Pops and hisses from the fire whistle with the bells and choir. My tiger is now fast asleep on his back and dreaming deep. When the fire makes him hot, he turns to warm whatever’s not. Propped against him on the rug, I give my friend a gentle hug. Tomorrow’s what I’m waiting for, but I can wait a little more.” That closing line sums up the childhood feeling for me. I’m waiting for tomorrow to happen, but I’m also happy being here now – waiting.

In some ways I was already experiencing nostalgia alongside the childhood joy. But mostly I just didn’t want it to end before it began. I was excited about the toys, but I was also looking forward to the religious services. Midnight Mass was a powerful thing for me as a child. I felt like it was opening up sacred doors to view a glimpse again of something I was not here for – the first time around. Maybe you could call it the opposite of nostalgia – hoping to witness what had already happened. Pining for a time or an event we had never seen for ourselves.

As an adult though, I wonder if each of us doesn’t witness the scene at the manger after all. Maybe we touch the spirit of it, in between the silly and the serious, as our children reenact it at our pageants. Maybe we glimpse the Star of Bethlehem in our own way, as we light our candles to Silent Night. The rituals and our traditions bring us back to a time we didn’t get to see ourselves.

Sometimes though, we relive this moment in unexpected ways. I feel like some of us witnessed the Christmas miracle again just this past weekend. From Monday’s New York Times, “Like Black Friday shoppers, Ms. Campolucci and dozens of others began lining up on Sunday night, bundled up with sleeping bags, hand warmers and down jackets to fight the snow and wind. They huddled together with hot tea and coffee, ducking into running cars to warm up before reclaiming their spot in line.  

“We’re just waiting with bated breath,” said Amy Wilson, who is seven months pregnant and spent much of the night outside the offices of the Salt Lake County clerk. “We’re not missing this — it’s not happening.” 

Ms. Wilson said a marriage license would mean that she and her partner of seven years, Emily Eresuma, would both be recognized as the legal parents of their daughter, with each of their names listed on the birth certificate. In case they could not get a license, they had been exploring out-of-state adoptions and other costly measures to ensure that they would both be the girl’s legal guardians. 

After a cold night, Ms. Wilson and Ms. Eresuma married at 8:20 a.m. It was a quick ceremony in a stairwell, with Ms. Eresuma’s brother performing the rites.” For this modern family, a miracle occurred in the most mundane of places, a stairwell. The most fitting Christmas present I could imagine.

Those are the stories that give me that warm Christmas glow now as an adult. In essence, it’s the messages of hope and perseverance we encounter in the most unexpected places – and for the most unexpected people. Christmas is not about the risen Christ – that comes later in the Christian story. It’s not about power or privilege – unless we’re talking about how power is overcome or or privilege is let go of. It’s not about the heroes or the rulers. Unless by hero you’re looking to a mother, a son, and an adoptive father who are travelers, are homeless, and weary from the road. It is in exhaustion and insecurity that Mary and Joseph show the world a different path to follow.

That’s the part of the story that resonates the most for me as an adult. Maybe it’s the opposite side of the coin that we get in the Calvin and Hobbes touching cartoon, but they’re both true. Sometimes we approach Bethlehem from the story of compassion, and sometimes we come to the manger from a place of loss – of hoping for hope. Both are there – both are worthy.

Our earlier reading, “The Shepherd Who Stayed” is yet another way to enter this story. “Thieves in the wood and wolves on the hill, My duty was to stay. Strange though it be, I had no thought to hold my mates, no will to bid them wait and keep the watch with me. I had not heard that summons they obeyed;
I only know I stayed. Perchance they will return upon the dawn, with word of Bethlehem and why they went. I only know that watching here alone, I know a strange content. I have not failed that trust upon me laid; I ask no more — I stayed.”
Sometimes we’re not called to goto the manger. Maybe we’re born of another faith, or no religious tradition at all. Maybe we see Jesus as a great teacher, a holy man, or a prophet, but not the son of God – or at least not any more a child of God than the rest of us. I don’t believe that keeps us outside the heart of the Christmas story. The story is not about believing any one thing. It’s not necessarily about being ready to travel across the world with our gifts of gold or myrrh. Sometimes it’s just about seeing, as the poem says, “The hillside seem(ing) on fire”, it’s about feeling “the sweep of wings above (our) head(s).” It’s leaving space in our lives for wonder, for awe. It’s about living our lives as we feel we need, with integrity, but making room to witness the moments of sacredness between all the moments of busy and fuss. And in those moments of sacred wonder, allowing the message to infuse our being. Allowing the message to teach us that salvation, or peace, does not come from power, or privilege. We find it when we value what the manger scene shows us – A mother, a son, and an adoptive father who are travelers, are homeless, and weary from the road.

In the year to come, remember this night; remember that star over Bethlehem. When you are exhausted from the long road to wherever you are going, remember you are not alone on that road. If you’re trying to piece together a family of your own making, remember you are not alone on that road. If you’re struggling to make ends meet; to find that next job; to keep a roof over your head – remember you are not alone on that road. All these stories, all our stories, are in tonight’s story. And when you go back into the fuss and busyness of the frantic year – when you hear people say the poor deserve what they have – remember this story and know that message is false. When you hear people say, we shouldn’t be concerned about affordable places to live for others – remember this story and know that message is false. When you hear people say that a family should always look a certain way – remember this story and know that message is false. The kings and wise men of the world will come later to the creche, but the animals, the shepherds – the lowest among us – are the first to witness this night.

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Prayer for Family and Friends

Spirit of Hope, God of Many Names, and One Transforming and Abundant Love,

At the close of one week and the beginning of a new,

Remind us to pause, to remember all the faces around us,

the faces that we cherish,

and who cherish us in return;

for the family we may be far from – in distance or in connection,

may we find moments that bring freshness into withered connections,

or closure where there is no way forward.

Teach us to love, wherever we can,

especially when it’s hard,

even ourselves.

In this holiday season of cheer and expectation,

some of us are celebrating the birth of light in the world,

or hope in our hearts,

or grateful for a long-sought rest at the end of a year.

Others are mourning those who are gone,

or mourning the dream of a family they never knew.

May we hold each of these in care,

Holding them in our hearts,

holding them in our coffee conversations,

holding them in our phone calls and Facebook posts.

For we are the ones who create the world around us.

Whether it be for love or despair,

we have some part in its creation.

Remind us to pause – before we act.

Then act.

With kindness.

With generosity of spirit.

With patience.

And a day will surely come,

where we know a world,

so full of these blessings.

 

We remember this hour the people of Newtown, Connecticut. May their families know peace. And may our nation find a spirit of determination to act in the face of apathy and political interference.

 

We so to hold in our hearts the families of Littleton, Colorado this morning who are grieving losses of their own. May we support our leaders in building a world of peace.

 

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Sermon: The Still Point

This sermon was first preached at the First UU Congregation of Brooklyn, NY for our annual 4pm New Year’s Vespers service on Sunday, December 30th. It looks at the renewal of the spirit and how that helps us to affect justice in the world.

 

My cat Dewey was helping me with my sermon writing this week. If you have a cat or a dog, you probably have been in the same situation before. I’ve settled down with my laptop on the couch to write. I’ve been away from my cat for two minutes too long, and he’s followed me from his comfortable perch nestled on my pillow. He jumps up on the couch, looks at me. Purrs. Rubs up next to me. Pauses to paw at my arm to show me exactly how it’s done – as if he’s saying “yeah, go ahead and pet me just like this, I’m sure you just forgot how, otherwise you’d be petting me right now.” Focused as I am, I absently give him some attention, but it’s not enough. He’s now up on the laptop, crawling up my chest, and planting his body in my face. At some point he manages to flip around – exactly how I’m not sure. In short, I have a fur-ball in my eyes, nose and mouth.

Now there are a bunch of ways to handle this. If you’re not a pet-lover, there’s going to be one unhappy kitty soon. But for the rest of us, you just have to stop what you’re doing and pay attention. This little ball of life has got you by the face and is reminding you – life is happening right now, right here – and it’s not going anywhere just yet.

T.S. Eliot has a line in his epic poem, “The Four Quartets” that approaches this same lesson from … a different angle. “At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” Now I don’t mean to suggest that Eliot’s referencing a cat somewhere between arrest, movement, ascent or decline – even if the image of not “calling it fixity” is very apt. (His cat poems come later.)

Rather, life is about the attentive pauses. Not so much about the breaks, or the rest, or the relief – those are very important too but not it. Life is about the moments of gratitude; the times of awareness. The world continues spinning, the dancers continue dancing, the cat is still climbing your face for attention but we are there to appreciate it, though we know not where that place is. Some of us will call it mindfulness. Others may call it gratitude. The less spiritually-inclined might simply call it paying attention. Eliot’s “still point” is the lack of motion within every motion. Many of us know how to do the part of the dance very well, but find the part of being the dancer very difficult.

Allegorically speaking, the story of the Birth of Jesus is about this too. A star shines bright in the clear sky. The kings get off their thrones; the wise men gather gifts to bear; the shepherds leave behind their flocks for a short time. Something great has just occurred. Where did it occur though? In some great exciting place? Were there alarms, or sirens, or flashing party lights? No. In the hidden recesses of a dirty manger, amongst the animals of the field. In the most everyday of places, the birth of Hope was to be found. All that is, is held within the ordinary, the mundane – only our perception cracks open its meaning; our appreciation makes all the difference.

One bit of advice I give couples going up to their wedding day relates to this. All the work we do leading up to the wedding, all the logistical bits – planning the party, the caterer, the dresses, the flowers, the music, the ceremony, the guest list, the table eating and so on – are all rituals that we can really get lost in. As with all things in life, we can let them drive us crazy. However, they can also all be a really intentional way of reminding us that for that short 15-30 minute wedding ceremony, we should be really present for it. We committed all this time, energy and focus over the past year to the planning of a very short event. It’s a way of reminding us that that joy, that celebration, is worthy of spending the time on it. What happens in the small moment of “I do” is that important. Personally, I sometimes imagine all that effort is somehow condensed in the moment. The still point in the turning world.

And it’s those moments between the moments (as T.S. Eliot writes in another section of the same epic poem) that we can return to for solace, for energy, or inspiration. The pausing is not solely about rest, but about renewal. Those two words may seem like the same thing, but I believe there’s a difference. Anyone who has woken up in the morning, after a full night’s sleep, with no will to goto work or school knows the difference between rest and renewal. The still point is about coming back to our place of renewal – stopping so that we can start once more – with fresh purpose and meaning. Gratitude enables us to meaningfully act.

Let us return briefly to the words of Howard Thurman who we heard earlier, “When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost,

To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.” This holiday season we’ve stopped, we’ve celebrated the return of light, and the turning of the world. We’ve paused to share time with our families, our friends, or just find some quiet time away from the frenetic New York minute. And we begin again.

We begin again as our full selves – or as close to our full selves as we can muster. The religious call asks we begin again doing the work of Christmas; striving to make the world a more safe, a more just, a more sane place. The work of Christmas isn’t about figuring out how to lose the 10 pounds we gained from the eating at Christmas – although that’s important too. It’s not about resolutions on how to get control of our lives once more after a month of celebratory abandon – although that might be needed as well. The resolution for us as religious people is to figure out how to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and those in prison (or reduce the need for so many people in prison), to shelter the homeless. If we do that work, the rest will follow.

The rest will follow because our priorities will be set. The need for the next thing, the distraction, the party, whatever that thing is that we feel we’re lacking that in reality is not essential – that will sift lower in our values when we’ve set the work of Christmas as our essential. The rest will follow when we accept that the distraction, or the crippling addiction we feel helpless before, or the petty grievance we keep at our forefront – all are not essential to who we are. They are what keeps us from ourselves, not what actually define us.

Mystically, T.S. Eliot’s “still point” echoes this. “Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.” The moment in the manger; the moment we realize there’s enough lamp oil to illuminate all we ever could dream of; that the days will get longer, that the world will continue to spin; the moment we pause to appreciate the Holy in our lives; the moment we pause to recognize the powerless and the meek for their own worth; the moment we stop in awareness of the breadth of life – that moment informs all the rest. That moment of stillness gives the dance meaning, and makes it possible. Life is not a series of disconnected moments strung together with only the meaning we lend it. Life is encountered in the flow between stillness and movement. The renewal of the spirit, rather than the resting of the body.

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Opening Words for Christmas Eve

We gather this hour to celebrate the most extraordinary story birthed in the most ordinary of moments.

Where we find the promise of life within the face of a baby.

Where our heroes, a mother, a son, and an adoptive father are travelers, homeless, and resting for but a night.

We can imagine all too well a time, where the powerful fear a message of compassion, of peace, of simplicity -

when it is wrapped in dirty swaddling clothes, sleeping in a food trough among the animals and the mess of poverty.

A child born of a yet unwed mother, a father whose ties are solely love, and a lifestyle that can only be called migrant.

From the midst of vulnerability we learn a new way.

A love that moves our hearts,

a vision of peace in an age of violence,

and hope where one would never expect to find it -

begins in the quiet solitude of family,

with the meek of the earth,

with the people that must find another path,

knowing the principalities and the powers

can never satisfy the least among us.

May the Christmas story birth in all of us a sense of possibility,

a renewal of faith in the breadth of the human spirit,

despite all the failings of our world.

That with every child that’s born,

this wonder is made known:

We are given a gift that is our own.

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Homily: Each Child That’s Born

This kid-friendly homily was preached for First UU of Brooklyn’s 3pm Christmas Eve service in 2012. The portions in parentheses suggest the answers our kids gave to questions they were asked during the homily.

 

Our service this afternoon is a special one. It’s not happening on Sunday morning like our worships usually do. We’re telling and retelling the story of a baby who’s name was Jesus. We just heard a few readings from Christian Scriptures talking about shepherds, and angels, and wise men (called magi in the story) traveling to find him and give him gifts. Why is Jesus so special – why are we getting together today to honor his birth? Tell me – what are some things that people believe about Jesus? What did he teach us?

(love one another, caring for the poor, the sick, the hungry, the homeless, visit those in prison.)

He was a great teacher, a healer, and some people believe he was the Son of God, the Redeemer of the world. All of us here may have different views about all of these things, but as UU’s we definitely value his message of hope, of caring for those who are hurt, and being loving to all people as best we can. Just being nice, just being caring to our neighbor may sound like a really easy thing to do – but has anyone here ever had to deal with a bully at school, or an impatient person on line at the store, or ever had a fight with their mom, or dad, or son, or daughter (anyone here ever have a fight with their family?) – those things remind us how hard it is to always be loving.

But we also believe that with every child that’s born is another redeemer for this world. The “hope of the world” as he’s sometimes called, didn’t come from money or power, or comfort. He was born in a dirty barn, among a lot of farmyard animals. Simple Shepherds were the first people to visit him – the wise men, the kings won’t find him till later. His family was traveling and homeless when he was born – and yet he would become one of the greatest of teachers.

If each child that’s born is another hope for the world – what does that say about us? Sometimes we feel bad about ourselves, sometimes other kids, other people can be mean, and it’s easy to believe the lie – it’s easy to believe that we’re not important or special. The birth of Jesus is about many things, but it’s also about how very important we each are. It’s also about how we are each called to try to make a difference in this world. How we’re to try to leave the places we go better than they were when we got there. We won’t always succeed, but we’re born to do this.

Can we look at the manger scene behind me now? Dawn Elane, June Wohlhorn and a whole lot of kids, youth and adults helped to make it this week out of felt and love. There are all sorts of farmyard animals on it. There are people, shepherds, wise men, angels and Mary and Joseph (mom and dad.) But who’s missing from the scene? (the baby!)

I’d like to invite folks to come forward with whatever baby photos of yourself, or your kids, or your parents that you brought with you. We’ll be going forward pew by pew in a moment, to place our pictures in the manger scene. Each child that’s born is another redeemer. As you come forward, I want you to think about something that you want to work toward making better in this world. If you feel comfortable – say it aloud as you put your photo in the manger. If you didn’t bring a photo, feel free to come forward anyway and say aloud what thing you want to work toward making better in the world. You can also keep that hope silently to yourself if you would prefer.

….

The birth of Jesus, and his life, has inspired so many people across the 2000 years since his time – to make the world a better place; to lift ourselves up when we are down; to birth love where this hate and hope where this is fear. May we honor his birthday by promising to strive to live with compassion, with caring, with love, and with hope.

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Prayer: Winter Festival of Peace and Lights 2012

Spirit of Life, God of Many Names and one Abundant and Transforming Love,

We celebrate this hour the hope of peace in our lives,

joy where ever it is found,

and the blessings of family and friends, both near and far.

We are grateful for this religious community,

the stories, the songs, and the silly amidst the serious.

May our congregation be a house of warmth,

when we are cold,

a foundation when we are on shaky feet,

and an inspiration when it’s hard to find a way.

Spirit of Peace, teach us to model compassion in our lives,

over the dinner tables,

on our way to school,

when the subway doors close in our face.

May we be the steady force that brings your way to life.

We hold in our hearts this morning all those who are missing loved ones,

family members who have passed,

soldiers who are serving abroad,

and those who don’t have the luxury to travel for the holidays to see their family.

And for those who build up their family, one friend at a time,

may this season be a cause of celebration for the many sources of love in our lives.

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