Prelude Roots and Wings by Elizabeth Harley
Opening Words A Season Not a Day by Cliff Reed (adapted)
Christmas is a season, not a day –
it isn’t over yet.
It began when tills fell silent on Christmas Eve,
and is ours now to reclaim.
Let’s make it a time for our refreshment,
a time to re-create our jaded lives,
sharing the love that Jesus came to teach.
Let’s celebrate through all of Christmas,
that we may carry its light through all the coming year.
Let it be so.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point). Words by David Breeden
In this holiday season,
May the darkness of winter
Be dispelled in this festival of lights,
And may the darkness of ignorance
Be dispelled in the strength
Of compassion, reason,
Spirit of Life and Love,
be with us as we gather for worship,
each in our own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
in this world in which Covid has not yet gone away,
and the clouds of war hover.
May we keep in touch however we can,
and help each other, however we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
who are grieving, lost, alone,
victims of violence and war,
suffering in any way,
this Christmas time.
Story: Feeding the Wolf (Native American) from The Shortest Distance by Bill Darlison
“Why is it that sometimes I feel that I want to do helpful things, but at other times I just want my own way?”, a little Cherokee boy asked his grandfather one day.
“It’s because there is a battle inside every human being,” replied his grandfather. “The battle is between two wolves. One wolf is kind and gentle, full of peace, generosity, compassion, and trust. The other is wicked, full of anger, hatred, greed, selfishness, pride, and arrogance.”
The young boy thought for a moment, and then he asked: “Which one will win the battle inside me?”
“The one you feed,” replied his grandfather.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
may we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
and may our shortcomings be forgiven,
as we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
the inspiration and guidance to do right,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
and receive whatever life brings,
with courage and trust. Amen
Reading Two spirits at Christmas, Part 1 by Max D. Gaeble
There are really two spirits of Christmas, each very different from the other, yet both deeply ingrained in our celebrations of the season. And I suspect most of us have more of both within us than we ordinarily recognise.
The first, of course, is the one we usually talk about, the spirit of good will and peace. It is this spirit that bids us renew our hopes amid the gathering darkness, that kindles our generosity and our concerns, that attunes our ears to the ever-renewed angelic chorus.
But the second, equally inseparable from the observations of this season, is the spirit of Scrooge’s “Bah! Humbug!” We all know that hatred and distrust will not disappear from human relationships just because we say it ought to be so. We all know that peace on earth is a lot more complicated than it sounds in the Christmas hymns. We all know that if the world and the lamb and the leopard and the kid, the calf and the young lion all got along with one another as famously as Isaiah prophesied that they would, then some of these animals would die of starvation.
Prayer by Wayne Arnason
Spirit of Life, The beginning of the holiday season is filled with temptations to conspicuous consumptions, and pleas for generosity. The contrasts between the values represented by this time of year, and our ability to fulfil them, remind us how great the distance can be between aspirations and actions.
The month has begun with the observance of World AIDS Day, and Human Rights Day on the 10th. They remind us of those at home and abroad who are imprisoned by disease, poverty, and discrimination. The messages of liberation, dignity, and joy that come with Hanukkah and with Christmas are hard to hear unless they are conveyed by gracious acts of outreach to those who suffer.
Our prayer this day, then, is that we may be gentle with ourselves and with others as we do our best to navigate through the tricky shoals of December.
May we avoid being so distracted with our own problems and duties this year that we forget the wider web of life of which we are a part.
May we go about our rounds of preparations and festivities with a light heart and with boundless patience.
May the dissatisfactions that are part of our lot be our companions, but not our masters, as we cross the holiday threshold.
And may all the joys of the season be ours, this time around.
Reading Two spirits at Christmas, Part 2 by Max D. Gaeble
What it comes down to is that we give voice at Christmas to extravagant hopes that are beyond the range of any possible fulfilment. They are, as we say in our more sober moments, unrealistic.
But the real question is whether this is so bad. Perhaps the part of wisdom is to accept this reminder of the gap between the real and the ideal for what it is, a spur not only to our hopes but also to our imagination and energies. It would be foolish to ignore the element of wishful thinking in our Christmas hopes. But how unspeakably more foolish it would be if we were to accept present reality as the last word and to stop dreaming altogether.
Our hopes are bound, of course, to be disappointed, at least in part. So long as time endures we shall remain creatures in the making, somewhere this side of perfection. Yet there is always hope for moving beyond the tragic failures of the past – if not all the way, at least a few steps farther. Our hopes are forever bound to fall to ashes; yet out of the ashes there can always emerge new hope – again and again and yet again.
Time of Stillness and Reflection words by Donna Morrison-Reed (adapted)
Spirit of Life and Love, Spirit of Christmas,
The blessings and the wealth of Christmas can overflow from each of our hearts, if we take the time to fill our hearts first. We are a world of materially rich people who are spiritually impoverished by our very wealth. The signs of that impoverishment are all around us. They push and shove to get our attention, especially at this time of year.
But let us stop the rush, for this hour, and allow the spirit of the season to enter our being.
Let us clear our vision and deepen our concern.
Let it move us away from an isolating concern for self to a relationship of love and care and wonder and joy with all of life around us.
Let our hearts be filled like a vessel with the Christmas spirit. Amen
Musical Interlude A Welsh Wedding by Elizabeth Harley
Address The Two Spirits of Christmas
This morning I’d like to talk about the two spirits of Christmas, how different they are from one another, and how we might “best navigate through the tricky shoals of December” as Wayne Arnason writes.
Because if we are the lucky ones, the ones with homes and families with whom to share the season of good will and peace, there are many, many people who aren’t. I came across a post on Facebook the other day, which I’d like to share with you now, because it really made me stop and think:
“Some thoughts as we enter the holiday season. It is important to remember that not everyone is looking forward to Christmas. Some people are not surrounded by large wonderful families. Some of us have problems during the holidays and are overcome with great sadness when we remember the loved ones who are not with us. For many it is their first Christmas without a particular loved one and many others lost loved ones at Christmas. And, many people have no one to spend these times with and are besieged by loneliness. We all need caring, loving thoughts right now. May I ask my friends wherever you might be, to kindly post this status for one hour to give a moment of support to all those who have family problems, health struggles, job issues, worries of any kind and just need to know that someone cares. Do it for all of us, for nobody is immune. I hope to see this on the walls of all my friends just for moral support.”
I’m not trying to be a kill-joy, not trying to say that we *shouldn’t* celebrate; just saying that we need to be very aware that for many folk Christmas is not a time of “comfort and joy”. For many people in this country, the cost of living crisis means that they are worried about losing their homes, affording to heat them, and about keeping any food on the table, let alone Christmas feasts. For them, this will be a bleak Christmas indeed. And because I am “of a certain age”, I have several friends who have lost dearly loved parents this year, and who are facing their first Christmas without their mother or father. I will also be thinking of people who will be spending Christmas in hospital, away from their friends. So I appreciate how very, very lucky I am, that both my parents are still with us.
The other thing which is getting to me, this particular December, is the difference between the fantasy images in the media of all the “must-buy” presents and paraphernalia, without which Christmas is seemingly not complete, and what we should actually be celebrating, the birth of a child, whose coming brought hope to the world. It seems that for many people, the Christmas season has become an excuse for conspicuous consumption, of eating and drinking more than we need, and of spending our hard-earned cash on presents for people we sometimes don’t really care that much for. Unless of course, we are one of the many unfortunate people who either don’t have the money to do this, or don’t have the loved ones to share it with. This is the dark under-side of Christmas, which is largely unacknowledged.
There is a very neat meme doing the rounds on Facebook at the moment, which sums up the two spirits of Christmas for me. It is a Christmas Bucket List, with six items, partly crossed out, and substituted with other words, so I’ll have to paraphrase for it to make sense:
- Instead of buy presents, be present.
- Instead of wrap gifts, wrap someone in a hug.
- Instead of send gifts, send love.
- Instead of shop for food, donate food.
- Instead of make cookies, make memories.
- Instead of see the light, be the Light.
And yes, I get it, but in my opinion, it should be both/and, rather than either/or. I have bought presents for the people I love, but welcome the reminder to be present in the moment, day by day, instead of getting lost in the busyness. My presents to family and friends are all wrapped, and under the Christmas tree waiting to be given, but I will also be wrapping a lot of people in hugs, during the next couple of weeks (and being wrapped in hugs also, I hope!).
I will be sending gifts, but also sending love to all those people who make my life so blessed. Including you. I will be shopping for food, but not going overboard, and have already paid a visit to the Northampton Food Bank, with a donation. This Christmas, I will be eating gluten-free mince pies (shop bought, not home-made), and will surely be making memories, particularly on Boxing Day, when the whole extended Ellis family gets together at my sister’s. Finally, as well as seeing (and enjoying) all the beautiful, colourful Christmas lights, I will be striving to be the Light for those that I love.
It was a good reminder about the things which really matter at Christmas – not the tangible things one can buy, and consume, but the gifts of love and awareness, which cannot be bought, and always renew themselves. The things we can look back on with fondness, when the food has been eaten, the presents have been opened, the paper thrown away or recycled, and the decorations taken down.
I also want to acknowledge what I think should be the true spirit of Christmas, “the spirit of good will and peace, … [the] spirit that bids us renew our hopes amid the gathering darkness, that kindles our generosity and our concerns, that attunes our ears to the ever-renewed angelic chorus” as Max Gaeble puts it. Because that is here too, in our minds, and in our hearts.
Christmas is a Christian festival, or it should be. The Christian message, the message of Jesus – love God, love your neighbour and don’t forget to love yourself – is a crucially important one in this mad world of ours. If Christmas reminds people of this great truth, which is common to all religions, then I’m all for it. If it is just an excuse for over-consumption, a couple of days off work and some good films on the telly, then why bother? But the very fact that Unitarians everywhere celebrate Christmas at our churches, chapels and meeting houses, shows that it means more to us than that.
Of course, Christianity also adopted and adapted pagan elements to make the festival we now know and love. We don’t even know that Jesus was born on December 25th; some authorities suggest February or March as a more likely date. But the Early Church fathers settled on 25th December, as it meant they could incorporate many of the elements of the widespread festivals celebrating the Winter Solstice on 21st December. Many of the things that we now associate with Christmas – the Yule log, holly, mistletoe, light – are all important parts of that festival. To my mind, that makes it all the richer.
So let us celebrate Christmas as a time when the Christian message of love and peace and goodwill to all people is brought to the front of people’s minds, and our bit of the world grows a little bit more charitable and more kindly. This is the true spirit of Christmas.
On this Christmas Day, I wish you all a Merry and Blessed Christmas.
Spirit of Life and Love,
may we think of others before ourselves
and may we take the true message of Christmas,
that of love and good will to all,
into next year.
May we return to our everyday world refreshed,
may we share the love we feel,
may we look out for each other,
and may we keep up our hearts,
now and in the days to come,
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley