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December 19, 2010: “When Love is Born-What a Gift!”

This is supposedly a true story; the names have been changed to protest the not so innocent. After some last minute Christmas shopping, Clara Smith was rushing her grandkids into the car. As she was closing the door, four-year-old Jason said, ‘Grandma, Susie has something in her pocket.’ He reached into Susie’s pocket and pulled out a new red barrette.

        Though she was tired, Clara knew it was important for Susie to take the barrette back to the store, apologize to the manager, and put the item back where she had found it. So, they did just that. Later, they stopped for a few quick groceries. At the checkout, the clerk asked, 'Have you kids been good so Santa will come?'

        Big brother Jason said, 'I've been very good, but my sister just robbed a store.'

         In the "Life in These United States," humor section of the January 1996 READER'S DIGEST, came this story: "Under a cultural-exchange program, Alan Abramsky and his family in Roanoke, Texas, were hosts to a rabbi from Russia at Christmas time. 

They decided to introduce him to a culinary treat that was probably not available in his country: They took him to their favorite Chinese restaurant. Throughout the meal, the rabbi spoke excitedly about the wonders of North America in comparison to the bleak conditions in his homeland. When they had finished eating, the waiter brought the check and presented each of them with a small brass Christmas-tree ornament as a seasonal gift.

They all laughed when Abramsky’s father pointed out that the ornaments were stamped “Made in India.” But the laughter subsided when they saw that the rabbi was quietly crying. Concerned, Abramsky’s father asked the rabbi if he was offended because he’d been given a gift for a Christian holiday.

He smiled, shook his head and said, “Nyet. I was shedding tears of joy to be in a wonderful country in which a Buddhist gives a Jew a Christmas gift made by a Hindu!”

        Love is born; what a gift! OK, look; it's nice to talk about Santa and the baby Jesus, the shepherds, the three kings, or magi or wise guys or whatever they were supposed to be, but we don't really know much about it all historically unless you believe in it, and a lot of us don't, except for Santa, of course. The Bible just doesn't say when Jesus was born, and from the description of the grazing patterns of the sheep, it sounds like spring, not winter!  And the origins of Santa, well, as I said last Sunday, they may go back 70,000 years to prehistoric times, for heavens sake!

        I mean, let's face it, Christmas is not going to go away because we may question its historical accuracy or its theological meaning on its number of divinities of three or one, because, let's face the facts, here there's a lot of money tied up in it. Over 40 billion dollars will probably be spent on Xmas, so let's not quibble on whether it's REAL.

        I've often described us Unitarian Universalists as the theological children who cry the Orthodox Emperor has no clothes on! And perhaps especially on the two major Christian holidays of Christmas and Easter, because we usually interpret them for a new day and in a new way with a Jesus who is human, but still amazing and still a way shower, still a love teacher, still a prophet of wisdom and social justice.

        But we DON?T know when he was born. We DO KNOW that December 25 is the winter solstice, that is on the old calendar, that today is December 21. We do know that December 25 was therefore also used as a birthday of the gods, because it was, after all, the birthday of the sun, the new sun that started the new year of lengthening days, hence seen as the new year as well. Very important time of the year for ancient humanity, so all sorts of religious meaning grew up around it. 

All sorts of ancient Gods were believed to have been born on that date, and all sorts of festivals, new years, gift giving, evergreen bedecked , mistletoe hanging, candle-lighting, flying sleighs, red-robed, fire-worshipping, white bearded down the chimney god, carol singing, and finally baby Jesus being born on that day, too. Indeed, I will argue, that’s when love was born; what a gift!

The Christ is found not in some humble stable
On Bethlehem’s plain,
But in all hearts that seek to heal
The world’s dark pain.
Not on some Holy Night of long ago
To angel strain–
While shepherds watched their slumbering flocks–
Alone, he came.
But when in calm of quieter hours,
Our souls aspire
To make the paths of truth and peace
The heart’s desire;
And selfless love becomes a mighty urge
That stirs the mind–
A sacrificial flame that burns the dross
And joy we find
In simple things, in gentle laughter free
From pride of self;
It’s then, we sense a Presence, all serene,
So strong, so still.
–Horace Westwood

        Oh there was love before, and some of the things done in the name of Jesus have not been loving, but he changed the world with love, not a sword, and it is that we celebrate this season and teach in this church. In a book, called Unitarian Universalism in the Home, it says:

        "Since the dawn of time people have celebrated the longest day of the year with light and bonfire and thanksgiving...The turning of the year is a promise of renewing life. The sun will climb the heavens again and the darkness will be pushed back each day. People will walk again upon the greening earth. The shoot will burst from the seed and the young will be brought from the womb. In the midst of darkness comes the assurance of light...Unitarian Universalists celebrate affirm joyously the meanings to be found in abundance; the wonder and promise of birth; the ancient dream of peace among humankind; the joy of sharing, of giving and receiving, of expressing the love and friendship; the power in the life of one person like Jesus, the tug of warmth and hope in human hearts, dedication to highest ideals, response to the cycle of existence."

        In the East, the ancient Buddhist Scriptures tell of the birth of a "Buddha spirit", what we in the West might even call the "Holy Spirit": "Know that from time to time a Tathagata is born into the world, a fully Enlightened One, blessed and worthy, abounding in wisdom and goodness, happy, with knowledge of the world, unsurpassed as a guide to erring mortals, a teacher of gods and people, a blessed Buddha. The truth doth he proclaim both in its progress, lovely in its consummation. The higher life doth he make known, in all its purity and in all its perfectedness."

        Most world religions have figures like Jesus; indeed, it is taught that Buddha was also born a virgin birth, as was Plato, the great Greek philosopher.

         Hinduism in India says in its scripture, The Bhagavad Gita: "When goodness grows weak./ When evil increases,/ I make myself a body./ In every age I come back/ To deliver the holy,/ To destroy the sin of the sinner,/ To establish righteousness."

  And in Judaism, at the time around Jesus birth, they were talking of the coming of a Messiah, an anointed one (which is what Christ means); they are talking about the coming of the Messiah still today.

This time of sacred season, of holy birth, of miraculous candle light and the fight for religious freedom, as well as nature-centered celebrations-a time for bonfires to call back the sun as days got shorter and shorter has been sacred for thousands of years.

        Whatever name we choose for the experience, for the potential, for hope and love and change, for longer days and maybe better ones ahead, for our memory of loved ones no longer with us, those who gave us birth, perhaps. I hang up a Xmas card every year that I received on my very first Xmas in 1949, it was sent my father's parents, signed Love, Gram and Gramps. Gramps died soon after, and so I have no memory of him at all. My grandmother, Gram, lived into her 90's and died about 15 years ago; I fondly will remember her as long as I live. Our daughter Elizabeth is named after her. I meditate on that card with a wonderful old velvet picture of Santa every time we get out the Xmas decorations. The other grandparent card from Nana, who my daughter, Cristina is named after, with grandpa not signed because he had just died the year before I was born. I will grow up with 2  grandmothers into my thirties. When we trim the tree and there are ornaments from the time when Cathie and I were first starting our married life together (that life before children, when we must have had so much free time!), then the ornaments we got when they were babies and then early ornaments they made in Sunday or elementary school, right up to today, when they are wonderful beautiful young women of whom I am so very proud.

        If there were no Xmas there might not be a time when we would show our love as families like we do. When love is born; what a gift! The Xmas mornings I remember growing up, then as an adult when I became the giver, did not revolve around the baby Jesus, but around that profound and deepest love of all that Jesus spoke of- for our families, that we should love all people like that.

        Xmas is not about doctrine, it is about the heart, and when within us love is truly born; what a gift  May love be truly born within us all.

Amen, Peace, Shalom, Assalaamu Alaikum, Abrazos a todos, Blessed Be, Namaste, Vaya con su Dios

Opening Words

‘The Battle for Christmas’ by Stephen Nissenbaum. He explains the history of Christmas in the United States which, during the Puritan years, was forbidden, and in ensuing years became a sort of a Mardi Gras type street festival among those on the fringes of society, with excessive gorging and drinking, bawdy songs and lascivious behavior.

‘With the turn of the nineteenth century, the reappropriation of Christmas took on a concerted form a move to hold church services on December 25. In the forefront of [those leading the movement] were the Universalists. Largely a rural sect, Universalists openly celebrated Christmas from the earliest stages of their existence in New England.

The Universalist community in Boston held a special Christmas Day service in 1789, even before their congregation was officially organized. The Unitarians were close behind. Compared with Universalists, Unitarians were more genteel, and (for all their theological liberalism) more socially conservative. Unitarians were calling for the public observance of Christmas by about 1800. They did so in full knowledge that it was not a biblically sanctioned holiday, and that December 25 was probably not the day on which Jesus was born.

They wished to celebrate the holiday not because God had ordered them to do so but because they themselves wished to. And they celebrated it in the hope that their own observance might help to purge the holiday of its associations with seasonal excess and disorder.’ Nissenbaum

The Moment of Magic by Victoria Safford

‘Now is the moment of magic, when the whole, round earth turns again toward the sun,

and here’s a blessing: /the days will be longer and brighter now, even before the winter settles in to chill us.

Now is the moment of magic, /when people beaten down and broken, with nothing left but misery and candles and their own clear voices, kindle tiny lights and whisper secret music,

and here’s a blessing:

the dark universe is suddenly illuminated by the lights of the menorah, suddenly ablaze with the lights of the kinara, and the whole world is glad and loud with winter singing.

Now is the moment of magic,

when an eastern star beckons the ignorant toward an unknown goal,

and here’s a blessing:

they find nothing in the end but an ordinary baby, born at midnight, born in poverty, and the baby’s cry, like bells ringing, makes people wonder as they wander through their lives, what human love might really look like, /sound like, /feel like.

Now is the moment of magic,
and here’s a blessing:
we already possess all the gifts we need; we’ve already received our presents:
ears to hear music,
eyes to behold lights,
hands to build true peace on earth
and to hold each other tight in love.

Xmas Reading In Memory of Suzanne Meyer who died this past year

by Suzanne Meyer

        This week, children all over America will be asking their moms and dads the age-old question: 'When will it be Christmas? Why is it taking so long?'
        I think I know the answer.
        It will FINALLY be Christmas when every crib is a shrine.
        It will FINALLY be Christmas when every child is received as though he or she were the Messiah.
        It will FINALLY be Christmas when we learn to see that the holy, the sacred, the awe-inspiring is not 'up there' or 'out there' but 'in here' in and through the ordinary world of sight and sense and sound.
        It will FINALLY be Christmas when we learn to value our differences rather than fear them.
        It will FINALLY be Christmas when we recognize that Christmas is not the vague remembrance of a particular day and a particular birth, but rather, it is the anticipation, a foretaste, if you will, of the Peace on Earth for which all our hearts long.
        It will FINALLY be Christmas when the 'live nativity', the birthing of a new consciousness exists in all of us all year long