Christmas Eve Service at 8:00pm
December 24, 2018
A Thought to Ponder:
Now is the moment of magic,
when an eastern star beckons the ignorant toward an unknown goal,
and here’s a blessing:
they find nothing in the end but an ordinary baby,
born at midnight, born in poverty, and the baby’s cry, like bells ringing,
makes people wonder as they wander through their lives,
what human love might really look like,
—Victoria E Safford,
excerpted from “The Moment of Magic”
Welcome: Rev. John Gibbons
WHOSOEVER on ye nighte of ye nativity of ye young Lord Jesus, in ye great snows, shall fare forth bearing a succulent bone for ye loste and lamenting hounde, a wisp of hay for ye shivering horse, a cloak of warm raiment for ye stranded wayfarer, a bundle of fagots for ye twittering crone, a flagon of red wine for him whose marrow withers, a garland of bright berries for one who has worn chains, gay arias of lute and harp for all huddled birds who thought that song was dead, and divers lush sweetmeats for such babes’ faces as peer from lonely windows —
To them shall be proffered and returned gifts of such an astonishment as will rival the hues of the peacock and the harmonies of heaven, so that though we live to ye great age when we go stooping and querulous because of the nothing that is left in us, yet shall we walk upright and remembering, as ones whose hearts shine like a great star in our breaste.
We gather tonight that we all may walk upright and remembering, as ones whose hearts shine like a great star in our breast.
Welcome, everyone. Welcome to those of you here for the first time; welcome to those of you who have been here forever; welcome to you who are here, well, annually. May we all be here together as if for the first time, with fresh eyes and cocked alert ears and open open hearts. After all, that’s what this whole fandango hullabaloo is about: In the direst of times, when we least expect it, we gather in hope that something new, and something good is being born now, not a minute too soon!
Welcome to you who are excited, you who are joyous, you who are anxious, you who are burdened by apprehension, you who are bored, you who already are exhausted and you who cannot possibly go to sleep. Welcome to friends and families from near and far brought – thrust – together by this holiday. It is said that a good thing about Christmas is that it is mandatory; as we can neither skip a day nor keep this moment forever, we must persevere through Christmas and we do so together.
We will get through this together. We will move forward together and take not one step back!
Welcome believers, unbelievers, and agnostics; welcome those comfortable, those afflicted and those ambivalent. Welcome also to those who might be ambivalent but are unsure.
Welcome to you who hang on as by a slender thread; welcome to those upon whom foreign and domestic affairs weigh heavily; welcome to you who are partially shut-down or furloughed; welcome to you whose emotions are thick and rich and running over and jumbled. May the complexity of your varied anticipations, dreads, expectations and yearnings be tenderly soothed.
Let us perceive the possibilities of birth and hope in our own lives and in our hurting world. Let us affirm all that is worthy. Let us resist all that is not. On this, Noel, we recall that James Baldwin did say unto certain poor folks, “The people that once walked in darkness are no longer prepared to do so.”
Let us pray for the sanity of the powerful, the power of the powerless, the preservation of the special prosecutor. the serenity to accept that which we cannot change, the courage to change the things we must, and the wisdom to know the difference.
Tonight we, poised precariously here – our heads beneath shimmering stars, our feet upon ancient timbers and this our endangered earth, with arms and hands free to hug and to heal – may we each be bearers of small inextinguishable gifts of light.
Whenever we make ourselves subject to some vision or purpose larger than ourselves – when we take unto ourselves the lost and lamenting hounde, the shivering horse, the stranded wayfarer, the twittering crone, he whose marrow withers, one who has worn chains, ye huddled birds who thought that song was dead and such babes’ faces as peer from lonely windows – we shall be proffered and returned gifts of astonishment, that we may yet walk upright and remembering as ones whose hearts shines like a great star in our breast. In that spirit of astonishment, welcome, welcome, welcome, all.
The Holy Family
Writing of the holy family—Mary, Joseph, and the babe Jesus—Wendell Berry once asked what would happen if “we ourselves, opening a stall (a latch thrown open countless times before), might find them breathing there.”
I wonder what it would mean for us if we did. If we, still rubbing the sleep from our eyes, with our long daily list of tasks already running through our minds, suddenly stumbled upon the holy family, the holy family right there in front of us, huddled together against the cold, a tiny baby nestled into the arms of his parents?
What would it mean for us to be startled away from our distracted thoughts, pulled suddenly into the intense needs of the moment—warm blankets, soft pillows, hot food? To understand immediately that we would have to make a choice, set aside the list of tasks—the laundry, the child’s play date, the stack of papers teetering on the desk—or set aside this … this what? This miracle, this wonder, this invitation into another life.
Because we could, of course, set it aside. It wouldn’t even be hard, or at least not complicated. We could just turn and walk away, reassure ourselves that someone else would soon come along to help. After all the family is right there. We practically fell on top of them, for goodness sake. And honestly, they could be a little more considerate, now that we think about it—move a bit more out of the way instead of acting so entitled, blocking the path of people who are responsible enough to take care of themselves and their own kids. Yeah, someone else will come along soon, not that that family particularly deserves any help.
We could set it aside.
Or … we could set the tasks aside. We could allow ourselves to be pulled into the urgency of the moment and then pulled even further, into a world sanctified by joy, by wonder, by the presence of holiness.
We could allow ourselves to be pulled into that sanctified world, with its new mother, luminous and weary from the work of giving birth; with its father, determined and probably a bit afraid; with its babe, intoxicated with the scent of new life, his mouth already opening in hunger. We could choose that world, we could.
I wonder what it would mean for us if we did.
I ask only because I could swear to you that I have been seeing the holy family everywhere; weary mothers, frightened fathers, and hungry children everywhere. And maybe you’ve been seeing them, too. Which would mean that now is the time we have to choose: Do we step around those holy ones on our way to check off our tasks one by one? Or do we step into that other life, with its pressing demands and its astonishing glory, with its refusal to allow us to stumble backwards toward safety and comfort and self-focus?
I ask only because I think they are out there right now, the mothers, the fathers, the children. They are out there and they may be here, waiting. Waiting for us to choose them—waiting for us to feed the hungry, to comfort the weary, to strengthen the frightened, to stand with the weak.
I think they are waiting right now, to see if we will choose rightly.
I wonder what it would mean for us if we did.
—Jodi Cohen Hayashida
Homily: Rev. Annie Gonzalez Milliken
Stumbling upon the holy family. This happens to me all the time, does it happen to you?
Just this past Thursday I found myself tripping over the holy family over and over. A call from an asylum seeker in the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment network asking for help for his friend who was in the most recent migrant caravan. A neighborhood friend who had the flu and was home alone and needed support. Texts from a former congregant who was stuck in a state funded mental health evaluation office all day before being told his condition wasn’t acute enough to get into a treatment facility.
And then there was a call. As soon as I saw the number of the Etowah County Detention Center I knew it was from Ricardo, who I met on December 29th 2018 in immigration detention in Boston. After being sent down to Alabama in March in preparation for deportation, having his case dropped, having ICE continue to detain him because “he was a danger to society” and finally having two pro bono lawyers take on his case he had finally gotten bond. A 3000 bond. With help from our bond fund he could be free, maybe even before Christmas.
The holy family doesn’t always come like this. Maybe you don’t run an immigration accompaniment network. Maybe your calls come from your kids, your parents, your siblings, your neighbor, your co-worker, a stranger on the street, your student, your teacher, your favorite non-profit, that kid you mentor, that dog who needs adopted… the holy family comes in many forms.
The holy family is also each one of us. When we are sick. When we are in financial crisis. When we are struggling with mental illness. When we are being bullied. When we are totally overwhelmed. When we are struggling with addiction. When our family relationships and partnerships are so hard. When we are grieving. When we are experiencing racism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, sexism, anti-semitism. When we are forced to relive trauma. The holy family is all of us and everyone out there and here we all are, stumbling around falling all over each other and what are we to do?
I want to tell you that when I got off the phone with Ricardo I literally fell on my knees like I was in some kind of performance of O Holy Night. I fell on my knees and cried because I had been so sure he would be deported back to his dangerous home country and away from his chronically ill wife and his concerned brother. I had been holding in all this grief and hope mixed together for an entire year.
And through risking this unlikely relationship I was, as Hayashida puts it, pulled into this sanctified world. All year I’ve been pulled into this world because of Ricardo and every person who helped me remember that human beings are always more important than productivity and that tasks on to do lists only matter because of the humans they touch and the ways they improve our world. It is so easy to drift out of this sanctified world, a million things draw us away. Our egos and the expectations of others and our own convenience or wounds. The systems of oppression that live in all our institutions and shape us. So many forces move us away and it is no small thing to make a choice that pulls us in.
This sanctified world is not a sanitized world. The holy family is not easy. Mary is all bloody from childbirth, Jesus is crying pathetic infant cries, Joseph is freaking out about what to say to his family about this baby born before their marriage. This sanctified world is a messy one and it will break your heart over and over and over again.
And it is worth it. Worth if for the warmth of human connection in the midst of pain, worth it for the ways we can get through the impossible when we turn toward one another. Worth if for the times when we get good news, the kind that puts us on our knees in wonder and relief and gratitude because someone in prison can finally get free.
A thrill of hope. A weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn. O night divine! O night when a baby is born to poor occupied people under a violent Empire who will grow up to teach us such radical love that he will be executed by the state and even that will not stop him or his followers or his teachings.
This is the savior born to us this night. Born in Bethlehem 2018 years ago. Born right now in famine in Yemen. In a shelter near the US/Mexico border. In a Black community in the U.S. where most young men are put into jail.
And this is the salvation that each and every one of us can live into. That when we are the holy family huddled confused, bleeding, vulnerable and crying that we accept the human help that comes our way knowing we too, are the very embodiment of the divine. And that when we stumble upon the holy family we breathe deep. Look into their eyes and see God. Choose our actions with care and love. Maybe the action is to say “I care about you and I cannot help you right now in this way.” This too is needed. Or maybe the action is to run to get the warm clothes, ready the guest room, soothe the crying baby.
Each of us has the power to live into and create this sanctified world. And this is the good news of the gospel and the good news of Christmas and the good news of Unitarian Universalism. That we can create beloved community even under the most violent Empires. That it has been happening for all of human history in ways big and small. That there is a Love so big and brilliant it exploded into stars and planets, so tender and close that it comes in the form of helpless babies. That this Love lives in all of us and fights for all of us and never lets us go. Alleluia and Merry Christmas.
Deep calls unto deep, joy calls unto joy, light calls unto light. Let the kindling of this flame rekindle in us the inner light of love, of peace, of hope. And “as one flame lights another, nor grows the less,” we pledge ourselves to be bearers of the light, wherever we are. (Gordon B. McKeeman)
Words of poets:
William Carlos Williams:
No defeat is made up entirely of defeat — since
the world it opens is always a place
a world unsuspected
beckons to new places
Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks:
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.”
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May we, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
From CANDLES IN BABYLON / Denise Levertov
Through the midnight streets of Babylon
between the steel towers of their arsenals,
between the torture castles with no windows,
we race by barefoot, holding tight
our candles, trying to shield
the shivering flames, crying
‘Sleepers Awake!’ […]
As Theodore Roethke has said, “In a dark time, the eye begins to see.”
At the conclusion of the next piece of music, candlelighters will come forward to have their candles lit. They, in turn, will light the candles of those at the end of these pews and you will pass the light on. Please keep the lighted candle upright; only the unlit candle should bend. Fire is bright – it also burns. Please watch your candles carefully.
When all our candles are lit, we will be given the musical cue to sing “Silent Night.” We’ll sing two verses: German, English, what-have-you. Then we will hum it through again together. You are invited to take your candle home with you – to light again at some appropriate time during your holiday celebration, thus carrying the light from here out into the world.
If there is to be peace in the world,
There must be peace in the nations.
If there is to be peace in the nations,
There must be peace in the cities.
If there is to be peace in the cities,
There must be peace between neighbors.
If there is to be peace between neighbors,
There must be peace in the home.
If there is to be peace in the home,
There must be peace in the heart.
“¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!”
The people, united, will never be defeated!
(Slogan of the 1970s Chilean resistance).
Now raise high your light and look around at the surrounding light. With your candle before you, make a Christmas promise to yourself. And when it is burned upon your heart and when you are ready to carry its flame within you, blow your candle out.
A little girl is singing for the faithful to come ye
Joyful and triumphant, a song she loves,
And also the partridge in a pear tree
And the golden rings and the turtle doves.
In the dark streets, red lights and green and blue
Where the faithful live, some joyful, some
Enduring the cold and also the flu,
Taking the garbage out and keeping the
Not much triumph going on here—and yet
There is much we do not understand.
And my hopes and fears are met
In this small singer holding onto my hand.
Onward we go, faithfully, into the dark
And are there angels hovering overhead?
Hark. (“For Maia” by Gary Johnson.)
I check the locks on the front door
and the side door,
make sure the windows are closed
and the heat dialed down.
I switch off the computer,
turn off the living room lights.
I let in the cats.
Reverently, I unplug the Christmas tree,
leaving Christ and the little animals
in the dark.
The last thing I do
is step out to the back yard
for a quick look at the Milky Way.
The stars are halogen-blue.
The constellations, whose names
I have long since forgotten,
look down anonymously,
and the whole galaxy
is cartwheeling in silence through the night.
Everything seems to be ok. (“Going to Bed,” by George Bilgere)
Amen! Blessed Be! May it be so!
Shalom! Salaam! Shanti! Peace!