We gather together now
Amid the deepest darkness and great festivity
We come as we are
Joyous and sorrowful
Lonely and embraced
Hopeful and despairing
Anxious and at peace
May the flame we kindle now bring light into darkness
A light that leads to an ever more joyful, peaceful, and loving world
Reading: In the Storm, by Mary Oliver
Some black ducks
were shrugged up
on the shore.
It was snowing
hard, from the east,
and the sea
was in disorder.
Then some sanderlings,
five inches long
with beaks like wire,
snowflakes on their backs,
in a row
behind the ducks -
whose backs were also
covered with snow -
they were all but touching,
they were all but under
the roof of the duck's tails,
so the wind, pretty much,
blew over them.
They stayed that way, motionless,
for maybe an hour.
Then the sanderlings,
each a handful of feathers,
shifted, and were blown away
out over the water
which was still raging.
they came back
and again the ducks,
like a feathered hedge,
crouch there, and live.
If someone you didn't know
told you this,
as I am telling you this,
would you believe it?
Belief isn't always easy.
But this much I have learned -
if not enough else -
to live with my eyes open.
I know what everyone wants
is a miracle.
This wasn't a miracle.
Unless, of course, kindness -
as now and again
some rare person has suggested -
is a miracle.
As surely it is.
Reading: Kindness, by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Message by Rev Andy Pakula
Christmas eve morning feels like a moment out of time somehow. The parties are mostly all past. We are not yet in evening festivities and not at the Father Christmas, present-opening stage. This is the first time we have had a morning Gathering on Christmas Eve. It should usually fall on a Sunday every seven years, but leap years mess up that schedule so there hasn’t been one since 2006 and that year the congregation didn’t want anything at Christmastime at all. So here we are - my first Christmas Eve morning message and probably your first Christmas Eve morning here. It gives us a moment to think about Christmas outside of the breathless run-up and separate from the joyful carols that come later.
Today, I want to talk about Christmas spirit. Not everyone gets the Christmas spirit. In 'A Christmas Carol', Scrooge didn’t. He couldn’t bring himself to be caring or generous or even polite. At least he couldn’t until he was frightened into the spirit. Hopefully, most of us have encountered the Christmas spirit this year and had a bit of it ourselves. In a very secular way, a way of being a bit more generous, a bit more caring, and a bit more decent seeps into our interactions at this time of year. People are more likely to give to a homeless person or to charity. They smile and say ‘happy Christmas’ - to strangers. Yes! Even to strangers! And they are less likely to get angry in traffic or impatient with each other.
This is a good thing. This is the direction we want everyone to move in - to let go some of the fury and division that is around so much of the time. To lessen the feeling of separation and loneliness that so many of us feel. To create moments of connection and warmth. But it doesn’t last. Before long, we’re back to normal, focused on work, on getting somewhere quickly, on how much we need that money, and what a jerk someone was for whatever they did to annoy us.
I don’t want Christmastime to last all year. By the end of December, I’ve had more than enough carols, mince pies, mulled wine, and ‘happy Christmas’ greetings. But I do want that spirit that overtakes us to last. I do want people to smile and greet each other. I do want them to find room in their hearts for those who are less fortunate. I do want them to have some patience with people who are in their way or different. Sometimes, we think that making a better world requires miracles - that it requires revolutions and enormous sacrifice and huge amounts of money. I want to suggest something very different. It can be from the small things we do that the biggest changes take place.
A New York City taxi driver told this story:
“I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes, I honked again. Since this was going to be my last ride of my shift, I thought about just driving away, but instead, I put the car in park and walked up to the door and knocked.
'Just a minute', answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90s stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.'Would you carry my bag out to the car?' she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.
She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. She kept thanking me for my kindness. 'It's nothing', I told her. 'I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.' 'Oh, you're such a good boy', she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, 'Could you drive through downtown?' 'It's not the shortest way',' I answered quickly. 'Oh, I don't mind,' she said. 'I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice.'
I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. 'I don't have any family left', she continued in a soft voice. 'The doctor says I don't have very long.' I quietly reached over and shut off the meter.'What route would you like me to take?' I asked. For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. We drove through the neighbourhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, 'I'm tired. Let's go now'. We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.
I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. 'How much do I owe you?' She asked, reaching into her purse. 'Nothing', I said 'You have to make a living', she answered. 'There are other passengers', I responded. Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly. 'You gave an old woman a little moment of joy', she said. 'Thank you.'
I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life. I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life. We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware, beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.”
Kindness can change one life, but it doesn’t stop there. As the aviator Amelia Earhart wrote: 'No kind action ever stops with itself. One kind action leads to another. Good example is followed. A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees. The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.'
This Christmas, if there is one gift you will give, make it kindness. So little can do so much.
May it be so.
When the wrapping paper is gone,
The decorations packed away for another year,
And the gifts have begun to lose their sparkle,
May the best of this season stay with you:
The spirit of care and generosity and patience.
Small things can make a big difference.
Your kindness matters.
May it be so