As we move more deeply into the holiday season, we take time to consider the holiday traditions of various religions. During this service we will explore some of the differences between celebrations of the faithful, as well as, and most importantly, how the same underlying messages of these holy day celebrations bring us closer to a spirit of understanding and oneness.
Lori Kyle is in her third and final year of study at Emmanuel College in Toronto at the University of Toronto. In addition to currently completing her course work for a Master of Divinity degree, she is doing a full time internship at the Unitarian Fellowship of Peterborough. Lori aspires to enter into congregational ministry upon completion of her ministerial training and ordination.
The complete sermon can be read below:
READING Those Awful Rumours About Santa Claus
My grandma taught me everything about Christmas. As a kid, I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit her on the day my big sister dropped the bomb: "There is no Santa Claus," jeered my sister. "Even dummies know that!"
My grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me.
I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her world-famous cinnamon buns.
Grandma was home, and the buns were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me.
"No Santa Claus!" she snorted. "Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad. Now, put on your coat, and let's go."
"Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second cinnamon bun.
"Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything.
As we walked through its doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days.
"Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.
I was only eight years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself.
The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.
For a few moments I stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for.
I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, the people who went to my church.
I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobbie Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-two class.
Bobbie Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out for recess during the winter.
His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough; but all we kids knew that Bobbie Decker didn't have a cough, and he didn't have a coat.
I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobbie Decker a coat. I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked really warm, and he would like that.
I didn't see a price tag, but ten dollars ought to buy anything. I put the coat and my ten-dollar bill on the counter and pushed them toward the lady behind it.
She looked at the coat, the money, and me. "Is this a Christmas present for someone?" she asked kindly.
"Yes," I replied shyly. "It's ... for Bobbie. He's in my class, and he doesn't have a coat." The nice lady smiled at me. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag and wished me a Merry Christmas.
That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat in Christmas paper and ribbons, and write, "To Bobbie, From Santa Claus" on it ... Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy.
Then she drove me over to Bobbie Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever officially one of Santa's helpers.
Grandma parked down the street from Bobbie's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk.
Suddenly, Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going."
I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his doorbell twice and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma.
Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobbie. He looked down, looked around, picked up his present, took it inside and closed the door.
Forty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my grandma, in Bobbie Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were: Ridiculous!
SERMON Many Flames, One Light
I can remember as the middle child of five in our family, having the dual experience of being an informee and an informer with my siblings regarding the Santa Claus issue. It wasn’t as much fun being the informee.
I shared the ‘Awful Rumors about Santa Claus” story because, there’s an obvious message about giving.
But enfolded in that is a message that underscores the idea that, although people may have different beliefs about the existence of Santa, the ideals that Santa embodies...inclusion, concern about ‘the other,’ generosity, aren’t limited to a chubby bearded guy in a red suit.
The eight year old in the story became Santa, and embodied what Santa stands for as well as any shopping mall Santa you’ll ever see.
The ‘doctrines’ about the existence of Santa may vary, but the general theological premise underneath them is the same.
This can be said about this holiday season among many faith traditions....the rituals may vary, but the soulfulness that underlies these rituals is largely the same.
Hannukah, for example, is a celebration known as the Jewish Festival of Lights, which occurs December 9th-16th. It commemorates the eight-day burning of oil that occurred during the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in 2nd century BC.
Diwali is another festival of light, this one in the Hindu tradition. For Hindus this five-day holiday in October or November celebrates the attainment of nirvana or enlightenment.
Buddhists celebrate Rohatsu, or Bodhi Day today, on December 8th. This holiday commemorates the day that the Buddha, Siddhartha experienced enlightenment after years of extreme ascetic practices.
Yule, also known as the winter solstice, is celebrated in a couple of traditions. It’s a Christian celebration of the light dawning in Jesus, as well as a pagan celebration of the winter-born king, symbolized by the rebirth of the sun. It falls somewhere between December 20th and 23rd when the dark half of the year relinquishes to the light half.
You might notice that there’s a common theme here – a theme of light, enlightenment.
The definition of light is ‘something that makes things visible or affords illumination.’
The definition goes on to say that all colors depend on light.
All of the colors in the rainbow of faith traditions depend on light... all seek the same enlightenment.
There’s a line in one of our hymns entitled “O, Beauty in a Life” that says ....’how wide the path, how close the goal, which love has shown.’
How wide is the path containing our various faith traditions, and yet how close to each other they are, unified in the goal of enlightenment.
Kwanzaa, another holiday celebrated in this season, is an African American holiday that lasts from December 26 – Jan. 1st, and emphasizes family and unity. It also represents a celebration of the unified family of humanity, on a wide and multi-colored religious path.
I invite you to join in singing now hymn #147 “When All the Peoples on this Earth.” You’ll notice on bottom of this hymnal page that this song is listed as a Christmas Hymn, and contains reference not to a child in a manger, but to “the lights of Kwanzaa.” As we sing the words of these verses, may we appreciate the celebration of diversity and oneness embodied in this song.
SINGING OF HYMN #147
“…when we share our inner flame...we’’ll harvest peace both far and wide.”
Celebrating the beauty of diversity and sameness of spirit among faiths isn’t on the mind of a man named David, who professes to be a ‘Jewish raised agnostic.’ Here’s what he says about the idea of the multi-faith holiday season...
"Let’s get serious here. A multi faith blessing during a Christian holiday is outright foolish.
Christmas is not a multi faith occasion; it is all about the birth of a person known to Christians as Jesus.
Those of us who were born in other religions are not stupid.
From late November we are bombarded by misdirected seasonal music and insistence that we consume until, by the time the date approaches, even the most insensitive are sick to death of your cultural imperialism.
There is no softening the Christmas season with discrete references to other faiths.
Even non-practicing people of Christian ancestry are sick of it, so how do you think we feel?
Here's a suggestion: try not involving us. If there are Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus or agnostics in the room, try to restrain yourselves.
Save your breath with the "multifaith" attempts because IT JUST IS NOT OUR HOLIDAY."
I share with you David’s comments for two reasons. First, he makes some thought-provoking observations about the how the “holy day” of Christmas is celebrated in our culture.
On the other hand, he seems to miss what’s at the heart and soul of this holiday, which U.S. president Calvin Coolidge summed up nicely when he said,
“Christmas is not a time or a season for some, but a state of mind, one that cherishes peace and good will and mercy. This is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”
When I envision heeding the invitation of hymn #147 to share our inner flame and harvest peace, and blend that with David’s sentiments regarding multi faith holiday celebrations, it brings to mind the last scenes of “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” when all the citizens of Whoville are gathered hand in hand in a circle around a bright star-like light, singing words that I never really could decipher, but were clearly sung in a spirit of hope and love.
[Va hoo for ay]
In their darkest hour, when it seemed that all had been taken from them, they still had hope to bring to each other.
Now, the darkest time of our year, WE can illuminate the darkness with our flame of hope.
We too can choose to be bringers of light and beacons of hope.
And in this season of holy days, we can join our flame in the chorus of flames around the world, the flames gracing menorahs and advent wreaths and chalices, and more...creating one dazzling and sacred light.
Hamilton Wright Mabie said, “Blessed is the season which engages the whole world in a conspiracy of love and hope.”
May we each experience such a blessed season, and may be indeed be conspirators of love and hope.
So may it be.
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