Christmas Eve

We stand with eyes toward the east,
Awaiting the rising of the star,
And pray that love shall become flesh,
and dwell among us;
And that compassion shall be born
in human hearts.

We celebrate the discovery of fact
in the garment of legend.

Let every cradle be visited by the three
good kings of Faith, Hope and Love.

Then Christmas is with us always,
and every birth is the birth of god among us,
And every child is the Christ child,
And every song is the song of angels.

To celebrate Christmas is to attest
the power of love to remake humankind,
May we be renewed in the love which can save the world.

(Edward Ericson)


Welcome and context

Welcome to New Unity. Whether you’ve never been here before, or you come only for Christmas Eve, or you are here every week, you are welcome.

This is a radically inclusive community. No matter what you believe, what you look like, where you come from, who you love, or what you are going through, you are welcome here.
It’s Christmastime at last. The long run-up to today is finally over. The parties and the shopping and the decorating are done. The shops have emptied out. The streets are quiet. We find ourselves at this special time.

It’s a time when most of us have a chance to put aside some of our usual concerns and worries - a chance to pause to turn to something more important than anything else - to turn toward something deeper and more important in our lives.

Tonight, we join together with words and music and light to celebrate all the possibility of this season. At the same time, we won’t forget what is happening in the world around us. But, tonight, we remember the power of hope to envision a brighter, more peaceful future for ourselves and our children.

You have probably come here tonight because you want to celebrate what is best about this time but you don’t take the ancient stories literally. But not believing in the stories doesn’t mean not believing in anything. 

- This is a night for believing in hope
- a night for believing in peace
- a night for believing in love. 

Let us be here together tonight in the true spirit of Christmas - the spirit of love.


Readings

For so the Children Come By Sophia Lyon Fahs

For so the children come
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come—
Born of the seed of man and woman.
No angels herald their beginnings
No prophets predict their future courses
No wise men see a star to show
where to find the babe that will save humankind
Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.
Fathers and mothers—sitting beside their children's cribs—
feel glory in the sight of a new life beginning.
They ask, "Where and how will this new life end?
Or will it ever end?"
Each night a child is born is a holy night—
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for [hope and for love].

A Mood of Expectancy By Richard Gilbert

The earth has turned once more in its accustomed way,
And again our footsteps quicken
Our voices are raised in familiar chorus
The sights and sounds of Christmas
Greet our ears and eyes
Almost as if we had never seen or heard them before.

There is a mood of expectancy.
What we are to expect, we do not know.
The least surprises are hidden beneath bright paper and graceful ribbon;
The great surprises are the magic that happens
Whether we will it or not.

There is a mood of expectancy,
And the beauty is -- we do not know what to expect!
Tomorrow is an open door,
An untraveled journey,
An untouched feast.

Christmas is like that -- it is a mood of expectancy
For out of the birth of the humblest babe
May come one of the great prophets of the human spirit,
And out of each of us, proud or humble,
May yet come truth and beauty and goodness we cannot now imagine.
Christmas is a mood of expectancy


Message, by Andy Pakula

Christmas means many things to us. 

It is a time of family and friends - a time of celebration and parties. It is a time to give and receive gifts. It is a time of beauty - with lights and decorations everywhere.

Christmas comes at the darkest time of year - the time of long nights and short days. It comes at a time when a light in the darkness is surely needed.

Whatever else Christmas may be to us, it must be a time of hope. No matter what presents we receive or give, no matter what we believe or don’t believe about the Christian story, no matter how many parties we attend or how we celebrate, we need the promise that Christmas brings - the promise that small things can make a big difference. The promise that tomorrow can be brighter. 

Sometimes, hope can be hard to find. This may be such a time for you. It is for me. The politics of recent times have weighed upon me and challenged my dreams for the future.
But hope can come. And hope comes - not from expecting miracles - but from the knowledge that we can create miracles. 

This is a story by the wonderful story-teller, Dan Keding. It’s called The Tear:

Once there was a shepherd boy who lived in the foothills of a great mountain range. His job was to take the sheep each day up into the high valley to graze. His task wasn’t hard because his dog did almost all the work. She herded the sheep, guarded them, and brought them back at the end of the day. The boy usually found a shady spot where he could sit and play his guitar. While the sheep fed, he would play the old songs that his grandparents would sit and play each night. He would sing and play each song over and over again until he knew it by heart.

One day, he and his dog took the sheep into the hills farther than they’d ever gone before. There they found a valley with long, lush grass. When the sheep saw the grass they ran into the valley with the dog at their heels. The boy explored the gray hills around him and soon found a rocky cliff. Against the face of the cliff there was a cave so dark that he could see only a few feet into it. At the mouth of the cave there was a big rock, and there he sat down to play his songs.

He played for an hour. He played for two. And then he got hungry. He put down his instrument and reached for his lunch. That’s when he heard a fierce voice say, “Don’t stop playing.” The voice shook the ground.

The boy turned around, reached for his guitar, and was going to run when the voice said, “Please.” So the boy played.

After the boy had finished, the voice in the cave told him a story. Then the boy played again, and the voice told him another story. And so it went all day, story for song, song for story. At the end of the day the boy was filled with wonder. The voice in the cave asked, “Will you come again?” “Yes, tomorrow,” said the boy.

Every day the boy returned to the cave. And every day he heard more stories. Stories of knights in battle, stories of adventure, stories of romance, stories of great humor and great sadness, stories of promises kept and promises broken.

One day, the boy stayed later than usual. As the sun dropped low over the valley, the voice in the cave grew sad and began to tell its own story, one of loneliness and fear. As the boy listened, he understood that the storyteller was the last of its kind.

Soon the rays of the evening sun began to reach deeper and deeper into the cave. As the boy watched, he saw the light glint off of razor-like talons and climb up powerful legs. Then it reached a huge body that was covered with scales and stretched deep into the darkness.
Finally, the light followed a long, serpent-like neck that arched to hold a great head. Wreathed in smoke and framed by curving horns, the head swayed as the creature spoke. The boy was looking at a dragon.

As he stared at this amazing sight, the boy saw one tear fall from the dragon’s eye. Stepping forward, the boy reached out and touched a leathery wing. Suddenly, the great golden eyes of the dragon flew open.

“Aren’t you afraid of me?” the dragon roared. “No,” laughed the boy. “I could rip you apart with my claws,” growled the beast. The boy smiled. “I could reduce you to a pile of ash with a single breath,” thundered the dragon. The boy looked deep into the dragon’s eyes. “I can’t be afraid of you,” the boy said softly, “I know your story.” The dragon stared deep into the boy’s eyes and nodded. “Will you come again tomorrow?” said the dragon with longing in his voice. “Yes,” replied the boy.

Every day, for many days, the boy came back to listen to the dragon’s tales and share songs of his village. One day, as the sun began to set, the boy picked up his guitar and turned to face the dragon.

“Why do you stay here alone? asked the boy. “You could live in the village. My people would love your stories.” The dragon laughed. “Your people and my people have been at war for a thousand years. If I came to your village, the men would reach for their swords and spears and there would be a great battle. Many would die, maybe even I.”

As the dragon spoke the boy realized that the dragon’s words were true. He made himself a promise to find a way to help his friend.

That night he listened to his grandparents sing and play. When the music stopped, his grandmother said, “Isn’t it sad that no one comes to visit our village anymore? They all go to the village by the river. And we have such good singers, don’t you think?”

Hearing his grandmother’s words, the boy had an idea. Without waiting for even a minute, he ran to the mayor’s house and pounded on the door. The mayor answered the door.

“What are you doing here at this time of night?” grumbled the mayor. “Is it true that people have stopped visiting our village?” asked the boy. “Yes,” said the mayor sadly. “Everyone has forgotten us. Why do you ask?” I know someone who could bring the people back. A truly great storyteller.”

The mayor smiled. “A storyteller. Yes, everyone likes a good story! I’ll go and meet this teller tomorrow and invite him to our village.”

“No. That will never do,” said the boy. “You see, he is very shy. He lives in a cave. You will scare him.” “A shy storyteller?” I’ve never heard of such a thing. How am I going to meet him?” “Well, maybe if you were blindfolded you wouldn’t scare him.” Blindfolded?!” “Yes, I’ll take you and the village elders to meet him. My dog and I will lead you there.”

The next morning the boy and his dog led the mayor and the village elders to the dragon’s cave. Before they reached the top of the last hill, the mayor and all the elders pulled their blindfolds up and tied them fast. Holding hands they followed the boy. When they reached the mouth of the cave, they sat in a circle on the ground.

The dragon slowly stepped out into the light and began to tell his stories. He told them stories of adventure that stirred their blood, stories of romance that warmed their hearts, and funny stories that had them rolling on the grass. The dragon told them sad stories that made them cry through their blindfolds. Finally, he told them his own story of loneliness. As he spoke, one great tear rolled down his face and landed on the mayor’s hand.

Slowly the mayor lifted his blindfold, looked down at the tear, and then looked up. With one hand he reached out and touched the dragon. With the other hand he tapped the woman next to him. She took off her blindfold and reached out. Around the circle it went, until each person was touching the dragon.

The dragon opened his golden eyes and looked at the mayor. the mayor looked back. He saw an ancient face, creased with untold years of wisdom.

“We have come to ask you an important question,” said the mayor. Will you come to our village and be our storyteller?”

The dragon smiled a toothy grin. “Yes. Yes. I will.”

The mayor turned around and looked at all the surrounding hills. Then he turned to face the dragon again. “May we ask you one favor?” asked the mayor with a smile. “Anything!” roared the dragon. “May we have a ride?”

The mayor, the village elders, the boy and the dog, climbed up onto the dragon’s back. He unfolded his huge wings and flew them home.

People came from far and near to hear the dragon’s stories of promises kept and promises broken. Years later, when the dragon passed on, he didn’t die alone in a cave. He died surrounded by his friends, his great head resting on the lap of a man who had once been a boy and had sung him songs. All the hate and all the fear had disappeared with one tear.

2016 has been a difficult year for many of us. There has been a continuation of the conflicts that have plagued the world for year - in Syria, in Yemen, and elsewhere.

But perhaps most challenging for us is that we have encountered greater doubt about who we are as a people and as a progressive civilisation. We have seen too much intolerance emerging in this country, across Europe, and in the US. We have seen hatred emerging in these places - hatred for anyone who is different. 

These are changes that erode our sense of hope for the future.

Hope comes, not from expecting miracles from beyond, but from the confidence that you can create miracles and that we - together - can change the world.

The man whose birth we celebrate today brought a radical perspective to the world. He had challenging things to say that even the people who follow the religion founded around his story have yet to fully absorb.

Jesus railed against inequality and the suffering of the poor.

Jesus was radically inclusive and welcomed to his circle those who were outcasts.

And Jesus reminds us of the power we have to create miracles of hope and peace. He preached the power of love - and not only for our neighbours or family or friends. He said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

He knew that we can never defeat hate with violence or more hate. Only love can truly undo hate.

We are not talking about a love that we are drawn toward or fall into. This love is not automatic. It does not just happen. Love is a choice. It is a way of living and it is a commitment we make for our own peace and for the peace of all around us.

The sort of love meant by this wisdom is a love that recognises the common humanity of every person. It is a love that leads us to see that each of us has dreams and longings and wounds and frustrations. It is a love that helps us to remember that none of us is defined by the worst thing we’ve ever done.

And, ultimately, it is a love that wishes for others the same things we want for ourselves: safety, peace, health, shelter, comfort, community, joy, meaning, freedom, and love itself.

We begin to love our enemies when we recognise that they are more like us than they are unlike us.

It helps to remember that an enemy was once a tender sleeping child lying in a cot, a manger, or in a parent’s arms.

It helps to remember that behind their mask of hardness or anger lie the same kind of fears and pains that threaten our own peace.

And it helps to remember that they long, as we do, to be happy.

If we do nothing else this Christmas, let us hear one another’s stories. Let us learn about the joys and sorrows of our friends and, especially of our enemies. In those stories, we discover our shared humanity.

You can never hate someone once you know their story.

May it be so.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

(When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled, by Howard Thurman)