What a year we have had, and just as we hoped to swing gently into the lights of Christmas, the Winter Solstice and all those other wonderful celebrations of light that religions around the world embrace, we get winds and gales and floods and perhaps the bitterest of elections. I was fascinated about the comments when this was announced, which included things about ‘ruining Christmas’ which reminded me that for so many of us the story of the Nativity has become saccharine, one of simple sweetness and light, when if we look at the story it was anything but. Perhaps this election, at this time, should bring the story into a much sharper focus.
The story was written for groups of new, or those who might become, Christians. It was written in two ways by two authors, retelling it in images that would have been familiar to the groups they were talking to. Later church leaders decided on which parts of the two stories should become the church teaching which included Herod, the despot, who could move a nation at a whim to collect taxes, and murder a generation of boys in Bethlehem, and trick a group of ‘wise-men’ who were perhaps ignorant of the way of the country they travelled through. The angels, to posit God’s position, in various ways, to Mary, Joseph and the shepherds. The shepherds, simple people, in awe. The wealthy Wise men, who believed a prophesy, were led by a star, fooled by a King and were saved by God (unlike the children) and escaped. Jesus, who was born in poverty, and who was an exile from his own country, a refugee, travelling with his parents. I rather like the other ending, the gentle ending where after the required time Jesus is taken to be blessed in the Holy of Holies, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, where certain other prophesies are made.
With the distance of time and rational examination of the scriptures, Unitarians ceased celebrating this ‘birth of Christ’. In later years we took the celebration back, for which I am glad; I like Christmas, with its Dickensian feel and its ability to gather us together in groups together, to review the story without doctrine and make it precious in our own eyes and hearts. I take something new every year from the story and each year hold on to the simple meaning of the rebirth of ‘Hope’.
At this difficult time in our history, let us take this time to look closely at the story, and take a leaf out of Mary’s book - do some ‘pondering in our hearts’. Let us not be bowed down under the yoke of politics, but allow this season to shine through the transience of such things. May we take what brings us joy from this season. May we remember that in the lights that shine, the shadow becomes deeper and hides more easily those for whom the season is not bright but bleak; and where we can, bring at least the warmth of our presence. May we be not impoverished by overspending that which we do not have, but be grateful for those small things that last a lifetime: kindness, gratitude, sharing and hope.
I wish for you all the Christmas that has most meaning for you. I leave you with the words of the UUA Minister Rev Max Kapp:
Light a candle in the darkness,
And you pierce the gloom;
Light a candle in the shadows
And love fills a room;
Light a candle ‘mid a sadness
And stars come to birth.
Light a candle Christmas Eve
And you mingle heaven and earth.
Rev Celia Cartwright, GA President