Borrowing from a number of Unitarian sources, Norah will offer a context for celebrating Christmas based on our UU principles and history. The service will include the singing of several beloved Christmas carols.
Norah Love, currently serving on the UUCD Worship Committee, was a founding member of UUCD. She is an integral member of the music committee, helping out with both guitar and voice as she offers musical support to the congregation. She is a practicing Social Worker and married to Drummond White, UUCD Lay Chaplain. Drummond and Norah are also appreciated for sharing their home for UUCD celebrations.
The complete sermon can be read below:
Unitarian Universalist Rev. Joshua Snyder of Omaha says: “Christmas can be an ambiguous time for Unitarian Universalists. Many UUs do not agree with the theology of Christmas, as it is understood in most Christian churches. ..........the question sometimes arises, both from within and from without our movement, whether UUs can or should celebrate Christmas.”
Indeed, I have found myself sometimes wondering how to celebrate the holiday and questioning if I am being hypocritical or ingenuine when I go through the motions since I do not believe the theology of Christmas as it is traditionally understood.
In sorting through this conundrum, I came across some reflections by several Unitarian Universalists which I found helpful and I thought I would share some of them with you this morning with the hope that they may have some relevance for you as well.
Rev. Snyder believes that UU’s not only should, but “ indeed must, make Christmas part of the Unitarian Universalist liturgical year.” He says, “ Christmas does something for us that we vitally need. ” ................ that “without Christmas our lives would swim through time without a reference point. In our quest to create a meaningful world, Unitarian Universalists need to help create sacred time. Christmas .......... makes a specific portion of the year and the days leading up to it..........a special and sacred time “ . He believes that this is desperately needed today as ”we live in an era in which much of the old traditions are being deconstructed with little or nothing set up to replace them.” He believes that “the need for ritual and religion continue deep within the human experience” and that celebrations like Christmas help provide a meaningful focus and context for us .
Holley Ulbrich, Professor Emeritus and UU from New England, states that the story of Christmas is an integral part of our UU history and Evolution. She reminds us that:
“Unitarians and Universalists were two separate faith traditions that trace their theological roots to early Christianity and their historical roots to the radical wing of the 16th century reformation, ............in Poland and England. Early Unitarians believed in the unity of God and rejected the trinity, while Universalists believed in universal salvation that did not require accepting Jesus as the only savior. “ Today’s Unitarian Universalists have evolved further ............ today we “undertake a personal and shared search for truth and meaning wherever it might be found, including, but not limited to Christianity.”
However, in the early days Unitarians did not reject notions of God or Jesus’ birth, but just the notion of his divinity............it is curious to me that as our faith has evolved, we have not only forgotten but seemingly discarded and rejected our own theological roots and evolution. It seems we are good at looking at the present and towards the future, but not so comfortable with honouring our past traditions or where we have come from.
Ulbrich points out that, “While most Unitarian Universalists do not believe in the divinity of Jesus as the Christ, he is still important figure in our faith tradition. “ She says, “Today, most believe he was a prophet, like Buddha, Mohammed and other great religious teachers........a view also shared by Muslims “.
I would go further to suggest that many modern UU’s may even look at the story of Jesus’ life as mythological, or an embellished folk tale, or a parable rather than an ‘historical’ account of a life lived............ but I wonder if that should diminish the relevance and the power of the story, or its relevance to us as UU’s today? (Do we discard our delight in the traditions of Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny despite their inconsistencies with reason ?) And I wonder if any of us could deny that the example of Jesus’ life as it was first understood by early Unitarians served as the very template in the evolution of the UU principles we hold so dear today.
Ulbrich suggests that “Unitarian Universalists like to claim that we practice the religion of Jesus rather than a religion about Jesus.”
She holds that “Christmas is a holiday that belongs to all who recognize Jesus as a significant figure in human history” . I would add, that it can also belong to those who may view him as a metaphoric or mythological figure, because of the great inspiration and influence his story has had over the ages.
Ulbrich also celebrates Jesus’ birthday because “he informs our faith understanding as a person who lived in the presence of the holy, who taught by word and example how to overcome oppression without violence, and who showed and taught us how to build and sustain a beloved and inclusive community.”........these are fundamentals to our modern UU principles .
In it’s most reduced form, what is Christmas but the story of the birth of an ordinary child , in a humble stable in Bethlehem, to ordinary parents during a time of some political and social change. It is about honouring a child who grows to be a remarkable man who lived with integrity, compassion, humility and grace. For some this man was viewed as the son of God. For some, he became the hope for humanity and a “saviour” worthy of worship. For some he has become a figure, or maybe even a legend, that has captured the hearts and minds of millions for centuries to come. Whatever your perspective, the story of his birth and life has had a remarkable place in human history and seems still worthy of remembering in the 21st century.
Rev. Snyder also sees Christmas as a celebration that informs our faith: He suggests that: “We celebrate Christmas because it speaks to us, and says something about what it means to be human in a postindustrial postmodern world. ” It allows is to join in a centuries old Christian “holy” day (or “Holiday” ) ............ and informs and enlightens our lives as Unitarians. When Snyder celebrates Christmas, or other religious holidays, he looks to what that particular tradition or Holy-day says about the human condition. He asks: “What is it trying to say to me about how to live, and what my attitude toward the universe should be?”
Ulbrich notes that today, Unitarians “count Christianity as one source of our faith, along with Judaism and other world religions, earth-centered spirituality, the teachings of humanism, the words and deeds of prophetic women and men, as well as the direct experience of mystery and wonder”. She adds that, “Christmas offers Unitarian Universalists an opportunity to celebrate with customs and meanings derived from other faith traditions as well. No one knows the actual date of the birth of Jesus, but the time chosen to celebrate his birth ...........(just after the winter solstice)........... was originally chosen to coincide with pagan celebrations of the return of the sun and, with it, the promise of renewal of the days of warmth and light that follow. Earth-centered traditions such as Wicca and Native spirituality also honor the solstice at this time of year, as does the Hindu festival of light and in some respects, the minor Jewish festival of Hanukkah.”
I believe that the convergence of many diverse Holy Days around this time of year and across the globe, has given a greater (not lesser) context and meaning to our modern Christmas celebrations. Although Christmas began as a holy celebration of the birth of Christ, over the centuries it seems to me to have taken on a much broader cultural and spiritual significance. that perhaps allows us to approach it in new ways, rather than discard it because it’s original theology may have lost it’s meaning or relevance to many of us in the modern world.
As 16th century Unitarian minister Francis David said, “We need not think alike to love alike.” It is also true that we need not find the exact same meaning in Christmas in order to join in the celebration!
In her 2006 sermon entitled “the Spirit of Diversity”, Rev. Lisa Friedman , states that, “it is possible to acknowledge the diversity of festivals during this season without diminishing the importance of the particular holiday and faith traditions that are dear to our own hearts. She posits that the first step in reaching a spirit of diversity comes in honouring our own traditions with integrity and opennness...............There is a joy in sharing some of the peace and meaning of the season together that transcends, but doesn't blur the boundaries of our separate heritages and faiths. ........ The second step is to trust that such transcendence is possible .”
Whatever your perspective, the fundamental message of the Christmas story is one of hope, and a promise fulfilled, “not only hope for the return of warmth and light, but the hope that is embodied in each new birth as a promise of what is to come.” (Friedman)
(from Snyder) “Hope is a powerful force. The hope expressed in the Christmas narrative is the same hope that lies at the heart of Unitarian Universalism. Fundamental to our faith is the firm belief that this world can be made better. Our lives can be made better; our relationships can be made better. Nothing is beyond hope. Hope is the driving force and motivation behind all of the great accomplishments of humanity. ”
Whether fable, parable or an historical account, Christmas is “ about the gift of human life and the potential that lies within each of us to transform our world.” (Rev. Marsh of First Unitarian Church, Ottawa )
Rev. Marsh says: ” It calls us .............to ponder this possibility........ “Hope for the future is calling us forward this day – like a light from a star. It is we who must pass on the legacies of the past, the truths of the present, and the potential of the future” ........ It asks: “ Can we access the great compassion of which our hearts are capable? It challenges us to remember that we have been gifted with life and life experience; that we have access to the stories of the ages; that we possess insight and wisdom. And that we have the ability – even the responsibility – to pass this on.”
Marsh believes, as do I, that we can rise to the challenge of the Christmas story in the simplest of ways ..................by sharing food with those in need, by sharing the joy of the season with a family that may have very little, by listening to our children and the vulnerable members of our community, by reaching out and being present to our aboriginal sisters and brothers and helping them heal as they tell their stories , by teaching our children through love and example about the principles that Jesus’ life and story embodies.
So how do we as UU’s look at Christmas ?.............can will we celebrate it openly and with joy?.......what meaning does it have for us ?
“ And as far as the “meaning of Christmas” is concerned, UU Lenny Scovel says: ........... I believe that it is part of our UU spiritual maturation to search for and assign meaning to all the days of our lives. In this, Christmas is the high-water mark of the year–a time when the world slows, and considers our relationships with each other. Isn’t that in itself enough to celebrate? Worthy of decorations, lights and music? The gifts we give each other at this time of year are more than just demonstrations of our generosity–----they are symbols of the gifts we are capable of giving on all the other days of our lives. Gifts of love, compassion, industry, advocacy…the gifts of our common humanity. These were the values of Jesus–----the true Christian values. And if we, as a Unitarian Universalists, need to reconcile the language of Jesus as the Savior in celebrating Christmas, can we not acknowledge that through his ministry of compassion, he was in fact our savior, by showing us the way to save ourselves?”
Now as I approach Christmas 2011, I am no longer preoccupied by concerns of theology ............... I am excited about the greater meaning, the broader unifying spirit that the Christmas celebration brings in our world; I appreciate it’s potential to create cultural and social bridges; for it’s power to evoke compassion, to transcend boarders and even to inspire the laying down arms. I welcome the call of Christmas to pause and embrace what is worthy of worship in my life. Without Christmas, I think the world be a lesser place and we would be a lesser people. Perhaps it just time to look at it differently and to embrace it with new meanings that fit with our needs and beliefs in the 21st Century.
Let me finish with an excerpt from a Poem called: “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem” by american author, poet and civil rights activist,
Dr. Maya Angelou:
“It is the Glad Season.................
Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.
We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
implore you to stay awhile with us
so we may learn by your shimmering light
how to look beyond complexion and see community.
It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
to translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices to celebrate the promise of
We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
We look at each other, then into ourselves,
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:
Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul”
Amen, Blessed Be and Merry Christmas !
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