Readings From the Sunday Service, December 23, 2018-“Our Favorite Things”
Opening Words What Are You Here For? By Quinn G. Caldwell
If you came to this place expecting a tame story, you came to the wrong place.
If you came for a story that does not threaten you, you came for a different story than the one we tell.
If you came to hear of the coming of a God who only showed up so that you could have a nice day with your loved ones, then you came for a God whom we do not worship here.
For even a regular baby is not a tame thing. And goodness that cannot threaten complacency and evil is not much good at all, and a God who would choose to give up power and invincibility to become an infant for you, certainly didn’t do it just so you could have dinner.
If you came because you think that unwed teenage mothers are some of the strongest people in the world.
If you came because you think that the kind of people who work third shift doing stuff you’d rather not do might attract an angel’s attention before you, snoring comfortably in your bed, would.
If you came because you think there are wise men and women to be found among undocumented travelers from far lands and that they might be able to show you God.
If you came to hear a story of tyrants trembling while heaven comes to peasants.
If you came because you believe that God loves the animals as much as the people and so made them the first witnesses to the saving of the world.
If you came for a story of reversals that might end up reversing you.
If you came for a tale of adventure and bravery, where strong and gentle people win, and the powerful and violent go down to dust, where the rich lose their money but find their lives and the poor are raised up like kings.
If you came to be reminded that God loves you too much to leave you unchanged.
If you came to follow the light even if it blinds you.
If you came for salvation and not safety, then: ah, my friends, you are in the right place.
Reading #1 Christmas Comes Whether You’re Ready or Not By Cynthia Frado
I am always in a bit of a shock when December 1st arrives on the calendar. I always feel like there should be at least another week beyond Thanksgiving before I can even contemplate the next holiday. I think, however, that beyond the incredible demands of the season, the hardest part to reconcile is that the heart is not always in sync with angels, presents, babes in a manger and the ho, ho, ho that is Christmas. Sometimes it feels like you just go through the motions because that’s what is expected. Sometimes I wish Christmas would take a vacation and return mid-winter…next year.
Yet, there is something compelling about the fact that Christmas comes, no matter what. The celebration of the birth of Jesus comes, no matter the season of your heart. The Prince of Peace, the baby that would bring a message of universal equality, compassion, forgiveness, and love is reborn again and again and again, no matter our state-of-mind or being…indeed, in spite of it. Perhaps that is the real miracle of the season, that hope and possibility cannot be denied.
As I contemplate the state of the world at this moment in time, I cannot think of anything more needed than a reminder of our potential to bring peace and healing and possibility into our lives. We don’t always feel it or see it or think it is there. But then there comes Christmas, even when we aren’t ready to receive it. A reminder that no matter what season of the heart that we are in, no matter what struggles or grief are consuming us, Christmas will not let us forget the light that was born in us…even on the darkest night of our souls.
So, even if you can’t deal with all the razzle, dazzle, and expense of this holiday, at the very least open the Inn door and prepare the manger of your heart for the gentle but powerful message that is seeking to be reborn in you. Never forget that you are a child of the Universe, and where there is life, there is light and love and hope waiting to be reborn, again and again and again. So turn on some twinkling lights, pour yourself a glass of eggnog (or not), and wait for that angel chorus to announce your heart’s rebirth.
Reading #2 Religion in the Ribbons By Ken Nye
“Christ is born! Alleluia!”
“Only ten shopping days until Christmas!”
We lament tying one to the other,
but this is not naked materialism.
There is religion in the ribbons.
A wintry night.
A tiny baby,
a cattle stall,
a bed in the hay,
two thousand years ago.
From hundreds of miles Kings come to present gifts
to the child of a pauper.
Shepherds, for whom birthing is part of the job,
stand in awe of the miracle of creation.
Something special here.
There is love in the mother’s eyes,
wonder in the faces of the magi,
celebration in the star-studded sky,
hope in the hearts of the shepherds.
The shopping frenzy is not without heart.
Toys celebrate children.
People don’t load up with gifts for others
because they have to.
Presents hidden by lovely wrappings
are mysteries that
speak of love,
Christmas decorations and holiday foods,
annual trips to the homestead,
memories of lifetimes together,
reflections of lives lived fully,
love for those present
and aching longing for those gone.
Time to pause and reflect.
There is sadness mixed with wonder and joy,
awareness of the passing years
when we marvel at how the kids have grown
and then realize that
time didn’t stop for us either.
The infusion of divine soul in human flesh,
presented to us as a baby—
as every baby, everywhere, as long as babies will be born.
Why not celebrate with gifts and food and family?
Let the cash registers ring—
the sound of people in celebration
thinking of others.
“A baby is born. Alleluia!
Let the heavens sing, Alleluia!”
Let us celebrate!
Reading #3 Miracles Happen by Rev. Shayna Appel
Christmas celebrates Emmanuel, God with us. More specifically, God with us born to an unwed mother, in a stable, accented by some curious celestial activity, some very ordinary, and some very extraordinary visitors. It can all sound rather miraculous…and we might be inclined to dismiss it out of hand.
But, miracles happen all the time! Take our next hymn, for example. “Go Tell it On The Mountain,” helped save a university!
The Fisk Jubilee Singers were founded as a ten-member touring ensemble to raise funds for debt-ridden Fisk University. Taking the entire contents of the University treasury with them for travel expenses, they departed on October 6, 1871, from Nashville on a difficult, but ultimately successful eighteen-month tour, a triumph that is still celebrated annually on campus as Jubilee Day. Though not the original repertoire of the group, by the time they reached New York in December of that year, their concerts grew to include more and more spirituals, like “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” until their program consisted primarily of choral arrangements of “anthemized spirituals” according to African American scholars C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya. This was quite an accomplishment in its day and, in addition to saving their university, the Fisk Jubilee singers have been credited with keeping these beloved spirituals alive.
Christmas is A time for miracles, but miracles happen ALL the time! Go tell THAT on the mountain!