Are you okay with Kwanzaa, Hanukah, and Solstice, but had enough Christmas for a lifetime?
Have James Dobson, Dr. Laura or George W. Bush caused you to develop a gag response toward Christianity?
Has all that has been done in Jesus name kept you from embracing the love, the energy and light that enters the world in December as Christmas spirit?
Can we find room in our heart for the divine one born in a manger?
First off, I thank you for coming today. Had I realized that I'd be following two Sundays of Christmas awe and of celebration, I might have added a 9th day to Hanukah. Then I'd have come singing “Oy to The World.”
So what do you say, can we find room in our hearts for christmas spirit? Can we find room for the baby Jesus, and for his saving message of love? Some UUs answer: “I had enough Christianity in my childhood to last a lifetime, thank you very much.” Some have developed an aversion to Christianity from watching right wing Christian radicals gain sway in our country and promote policies that have undermined our civil rights, gutted environmental protections, and ushered in an era of “corporate welfare” that has resulted in financial advancement for a few, greater disenfranchisement for many, longer work hours and greater economic instability for nearly everyone.
Many of us have a problem with Christmas, when the “reason for the season” is to make sure we're aligned with the right god. For some of us, the problem with Christmas is Christianity. Many resent Christian dismissal of the other great religious traditions of the world. But do we out of hand dismiss Christianity?
Some of us have assumed that secular humanism is the only force capable of mitigating the destructive and oppressive power of the religious right? If you are in this number, I would ask you to consider liberal religion in general, and liberal Christianity in particular. Don't let fundamentalists define Christianity for you.
Many find the UU tradition empowering because it provides a way to be religious without having to be Christian. However, our tradition also provides an alternative way TO BE Christian. Our UU movement was once a home for liberal Christians. Today it is a home for people who identify and draw upon Judaism, Buddhism, Humanism, Science, and yes, Christianity. We offer a theologically diverse environment in which to engage a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
Are you with me so far? My point is that our UU tradition doesn't require you to be a Christian, but it does expect you to make room for liberal Christianity. If your conscience prevents you from singing a particular hymn, that is No problem. You want to speak out about the oppression implicit in some church doctrine? We have room for you.
And in this church we hold a sacred space for a liberal expression of Christianity. We must see to it that there is room for Christians, … as well as Pagans, Jews, Buddhists, Wiccans and religious humanists. And to encourage spiritual growth in our liberal Christian members, we must make room for a religious celebration of Christmas!
Most of you know of that Judaism is my first language of the sacred. As a UU, I feel free absolute freedom to hold on to aspects of Judaism that are meaningful to me and let go of the rest. I also feel free to participate in Christian traditions. It's not every Jew who can experience ecstasy singing Christmas carols. Not every Jewnatarian Jewnaversalist so enjoys discussing what is meaningful about Christmas.
With Jews as well as UUS, many prefer to avoid Christianity and any mention of Jesus at all. I don’t happen to be one of those Jews. I was raised Jewish with a extensive exposure to Catholicism. So today, I am happy to explore Christianity and I feel comfortable bringing a Jewish perspective to discussion of Christian doctrines and traditions.
For example, when I consider the meaningfulness of Advent, I remember Jewish history. Two thousand years ago, Jews lived under Roman occupation. Simply put their lives were hard, and their faith gave them hope for redemption. The Christmas story arises from a context of Jews waiting for a redeemer or savior.
The messianic and prophetic traditions arise from a hope that the ultimate power of life will right the wrongs and establish peace and justice on Earth. The desire for deliverance was both personal and political. It grew from the inherent human desire for freedom from suffering. Judaism like all religion grows from this desire. The Buddha addressed this desire. He said that human existence was rife with suffering, and a desire to break free. St. Augustine put it this way; “Restless is the heart, until it finds rest in thee Lord”
The story of Christmas is the story of the birth of a redeemer. It is the story of hope and faith placed in a miraculous birth. Now there are those of us who would say that all births, the beginning of any life is laden with infinite possibilities and hope. However, the story of Christmas is the story of an extraordinary birth.
The story of Christmas tells of an impoverished family, and it concerned with kings, power and majesty. There is King Harod, kings or magi from the East, and of course Lord Jesus.
Oddly, the Prince of Peace is not born into Earthly wealth and status. Only a few people recognize him as King. Imagine how it really must have been for Mary going into labor while wondering through a cold winter’s night. Could Jesus station have been lower than to be born in a manger next to a donkey and sheep?
Frankly I don’t care at all if you believe anything supernatural about Jesus. Whether you are a person who attributes supernatural events to the story or not, you can find faith. You can find or miss the miracle of Christmas, regardless of whether you hold Christmas as a supernatural event.
What is necessary is an appreciation of symbolism. No sermon, indeed no communication would be possible without symbols. Symbols are the building blocks of language. We use letters and words in order to represent something of meaning.
As a religious liberal, I would suggest that divinity or the Great Mystery has been approached primarily through the use of symbols. How else could we begin to address and approach the fullness of eternity. Our concepts of god are just that, concepts. And we don't have to believe in the existence of a god, to imagine or address ultimacy, that which is supreme.
Perhaps the Universe is what we imagine as greatest. But what is the Universe? Maybe we have a picture of a stars extending in every direction. But can we conceive of everything? The word “Universe” then, becomes another symbolic representation for infinity.
To millions of people on Earth, Jesus is the representative, the symbol of that which is divine, infinite and supreme. To a Christian, Jesus is a portal to the place that is infinite and eternal. To a Christian, the story of advent is a story of mind staggering humility, and connection. God, the infinite, everlasting and all powerful became one of us. That which is beyond our imagination and comprehension became known to us as a human being.
And not only did God become known to us as a human being, but, as I stated before, she became a boy child born in the filth and the squalor and the hardship that was life for common people 2000 years ago and today.
When the religion that worshipped this divine one evolved, Jesus became known as King of Kings, Lord of Lords. However the Prince of Peace was born without recognition, in a manger on a cold winter night. The story of Christmas, like the Gospel story that follows it, is the story of the infinite oneness incarnating; Supreme power becoming flesh, flesh that pains, flesh that dies.
Have you ever been outside on a winter’s night? When you are not dressed warm enough, the cold steals your thoughts. But if it’s not too cold or if you have dressed warmly, you may notice a sobering stillness, and in it presence that causes your consciousness to wonder at all that is, and to know the vastness as kin.
Advent is a time that Christians enter into that stillness to prepare and wait for the coming of the Redeemer, Messiah Jesus. It is a time for reflection and interior preparation for the coming of miracle.
Advent is the season when Christians wait determined to keep the faith in a positive outcome. There is often fear and faith in waiting. Think of Francis Scott Key waiting to see if the American flag was still flying over Fort McHenry.
Advent is the season when Christians wait for someone they love. Have you ever waited for someone you loved? Most of you can remember what it was like before cell phones. And even since then, have you ever sat at home waiting minutes or hours past the time when your son, daughter, wife or husband was due home? ... Waiting for a loved one who didn’t return at the appointed time, we instruct ourselves not to panic. Have you sat in a hospital waiting room wondering if your loved one would live through the night?
At times like these we are likely to gain a different perspective on life. Maybe we wonder: What is life all about? Why are we alive? What is important, or what do we need to accomplish?
I am guessing that each of us has at some time, asked and answered these questions. I imagine that we have gained a sense of clarity and purpose, but the question comes again. We forget what makes life meaningful. We forget how much some one means to us.
One thing that amazes me most about life is how many times I have forgotten what is important to me. I have been blessed with such incredible times of faith and love and peace, and I swear that I'm saved, never to be lost again. Then I find myself sleepwalking. I find myself worrying, and complaining and treating people as if they were things that are in my way.
At Christmas, I find space for the sanity and insanity of life to both exist within me. No matter how many times I have forgotten what makes life meaningful, Christmas calls me to go out into the night as a watchman. Even in Texas, even when it's not cold, I remember Christmas as a cold winter night when we look to the sky and see a guiding star in the east.
Some of the miracles at Christmas occur when we remember how much we love someone.
I remember my father pulling me on a toboggan with snow flurries coming down, and sitting in my momma’s lap. I remember my brother, and how one Christmas night he departed this Earth at the age of 33. Brothers don’t die so young, and then they do. And some cold starry nights, I can feel him right here with me.
I love Christmas for the many reminders of what is real, and good and true in life! Despite all the hype of commercials, and manipulations of a culture constantly trying to get us to buy more stuff, ...despite Christians and others trapped in a game of “I am better than you are,” the good news of Christmas breaks through. Hanging in the winter air is the divine promise for the birth of the Christ child. It is the promise of change and fulfillment of divine order. It is the hope, the beauty and the reality of people loving and caring.
And when I feel like nothing ever changes, and the best I can hope for is personal achievement, a bit of Christmas speaks to me. I am tense as I make my way through the shopping crowds. I am motivated by obligation and guilt. And I am distracted by the noise of a family at the back of the store. The children are captivated by a wall of toys. They want to stay longer. Mom's watch calls her to move on. She is stressed and burdened. I hear it in her voice. Her son is whining.
And right there in the middle of that angst, beauty breaks through, and I see a woman who would give her life for her children. In fact she is giving her life for them. She is the Christ and so is her whining son. Love, emanuel, god is with us.
We interrupt this stupid situation non-comedy melodrama of the unbearably trite and mundane to bring you a fleeting glimpse of reality, a fleeting glimpse of the Christ child, a fleeting glimpse of the fulfillment of the promise of an order that is just and beautiful and abundant with peace and joy.
Do you think the promise of the coming of a Redeemer is a foolish children’s story? Or that it is a lie told by powerful men seeking to justify and maintain their domination? In every age there are powers and principalities, there are Herods that will slaughter the first born children for the sake of their ego. But if this is all we see, than we are truly in need of redemption. The promised kingdom of heaven is at hand, it is always at hand. And the savior is among us. The angels bring good tidings of great joy that shall be to all people.
So be it.
May we in these final days of Advent, sit with courage, attentively poised to receive him or her who comes in the name of Love. May we have the wisdom and the skill to be still in this busy season, still long enough to reflect and remember all that is sacred, true and good. May we make room in our hearts and in our lives for the divine one being born in the manger. May we prepare the way for that time when in truth it will be said “Peace on Earth Good will to all.”