by Rev. Duncan Voice
Opening Words by Ellen Fay
It is the winter season of the year.
Dark and chilly.
Perhaps it is a winter season in your life?
Dark and chilly there, too.
Come into Christmas here.
Let the light and warmth of Christmas brighten our
Lives and world.
Let us find in the dark corners of our souls the
light of hope,
A vision of the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Let us find rest in the quiet of the holy moment to
find promise and renewal.
Let us find the child in each of us, the new hope,
the new light, born in us.
Then will Christmas come.
Chalice Lighting by Max Kapp (adapted)
Light a candle in the darkness,
And you pierce the gloom;
Light a candle in the shadows
And love fills the room;
Light a candle ‘mid a sadness
And stars come to birth.
Light a candle at Christmas time
And you mingle heaven and earth.
God of Our Hearts, Source of all Being,
We are together.
No matter the distance between us,
We are together.
In this community of love,
We are together.
We pause to remember those
Who cannot be with us.
Those whose passing comes to our mind
At this time.
Those friends and relatives who
We are missing.
We reach out in love
And bring them into the warmth of
Our hearts and our community.
In this time of Advent,
May we have patience with life
And know peace.
May we discover in our gathering
New hope, new joy and new inspiration.
May the light of love
Be our guiding star.
Reading – John 1: 1-9
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.
Music: The Holly and the Ivy
Reading: Why Not a Star by Margaret Gooding
They told me, that when Jesus was born, a star appeared in the heavens above a place where a young child lay.
When I was very young I had no trouble believing wondrous things; I believed in the star.
It was a wonderful miracle, part of a long ago story, foretelling an uncommon life.
They told me a super nova appeared in the heavens in its dying burst of fire.
When I was older and believed in science and reason, I believed the story of the star explained.
But I found I was unwilling to give up the star, fitting symbol for the birth of one whose uncommon life has been long remembered.
The star explained became the star understood, for Jesus, for Buddha, for Zarathustra.
Why not a star? Some bright star shines somewhere in the heavens each time a child is born.
Who knows what it may foretell? Who knows what uncommon life may yet again unfold, if we but give it a chance?
This Christmas by Cliff Reed
This Christmas I give thanks once more for the birth of Jesus,
For his message of the rule of love, and for the ultimate integrity with which he lived it.
This Christmas I give thanks for all the great souls who have turned our world towards the light, and for the bright festivals that remember them.
This Christmas I give thanks for all the blessings in my life and for the love that has enfolded and inspired me from my own birth to this present moment.
This Christmas I give thanks for my family: those present in fond and sacred memory; those still around me, laying down new memories for our lives’ enrichment.
This Christmas I give thanks for friends both close and distant (however that be understood) and for all who share with me the path of life and faith.
This Christmas I give thanks for the past year, touched as it was by both grief and joy; by the silence of death’s shadow, and by the song’s of life’s celebration.
This Christmas I give thanks for this glorious universe; for the divine in nature and moments of insight and rapture; for the companionship of all who share the breath of life.
This Christmas I feel shame for our weakness, unkindness, and stupidity; for our failure to care for each other and for our earth; but I give thanks that sometimes we care enough to be ashamed.
This Christmas I give thanks that, in our caring, God calls us to continue the struggle for love and truth and righteousness, and gives us the heart to do so.
This Christmas I give thanks for you, my fellow pilgrims. And I wish you and all the earth the blessings of healing, peace and restoration.
Music: Walking in the Air, Howard Blake, Vladimir Ashkenazy
Tomorrow is the winter solstice, when we who live in the northern hemisphere of our beloved planet, experience the shortest day and the longest night. A time of year, also, when those who celebrate Christmas decorate their houses both inside and out. So, if we walk around our cities, towns and villages we find spectacular illuminations. Glowing Christmas trees, Santas and reindeer, lights of many colours and decorations of great variety that shine on dark evenings. And above us, if not obscured by street lights, or clouds, the beautiful night sky of winter, full of stars.
It seems to me that many people have put their decorations out early this year, or perhaps it is just that I’ve noticed them more? Maybe we are all looking for something to light up our lives this year? I must say that I have not always been a fan of Christmas lights in previous years. Sometimes I thought them a bit tacky and, well, maybe a visible manifestation of the festival of the consumerism, that I perceived Christmas had become. But I see them differently this year. I see them for the joy they bring to many people, as they decorate our streets and our lives. An important symbol of hope in the face of difficulties caused by the pandemic.
Christmas lights are a relatively new phenomenon, that have really taken off in recent years with the introduction bright LED lights; which are much more reliable and can be used in more diverse ways compared to the old bulbs. Apparently in 1935 Selfridges, in London, was the first store in the UK to put up lights in the form of illuminated Christmas trees, but the second world war curtailed any further developments. It wasn’t until 1954 that the Regent Street Association clubbed together and paid for strings of Christmas lights; with rival Oxford Street following suit a few years later. Even then it hasn’t been a smooth ride, as the lights have been switched off a number of times due to lack of funds and recessions, including for an extended period during the 1970s.
Now, most towns have some kind of display and some private households are literally covered in lights; sometimes attracting spectators and supporting charities.
So my suspicions of a link between modern Christmas lights and consumerism weren’t unfounded. But whilst I am still concerned about non-sustainable over-consumption of goods and energy, plastic pollution, and the effects on our planet. I also recognize that currently a lot of people’s livelihoods rely on this season of celebration. Redundancies in some areas of the economy such as hospitability have increased dramatically due to the current Covid-19 restrictions. Adding another dimension of suffering to an already extraordinarily difficult time. So this year I welcome the Christmas lights.
Decorating our houses and towns with electric lights may be a relatively new thing, but our use of light in its many forms is ancient. Not just in the physical sense, but in using it as one of the great symbols or metaphors in religion. Light, as fundamental as it is to our physical well-being, is yet mysterious and intangible in some ways; making it a good way to help describe such things as love, spiritual understanding, the Divine, revelation and much more. There are 335 references to light in the Bible, including some of the most memorable phrases.
“Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.” Genesis 1: 3
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” Psalm 119: 105
“No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light.” Luke 8: 16
“Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” John 8: 12
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” Matthew 14
“While I was on my way and approaching Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me.” Acts 22: 6
And our reading earlier from the Gospel of John was full of light references, ending with “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
Of course the use of light in religion is not confined to Christianity. Last week was the Jewish Festival of Lights, or Hannukah, where each night over the eight day holiday a candle or oil lamp is lit. Back in November Hindus, Jains and Sikhs celebrated their own Festival of Lights, Diwali; celebrating the “victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance”.
Light can be awesome and beautiful. It must have seemed magical to ancient folks and it still fascinates us today. Is the anything like a spectacular sunrise or sunset to lift our spirit. But light can also be soft gentle and welcoming, like the lamp in the stable. It can bring us home to others and ourselves, and guide us, like the light of the star. We all need something to shine for us in some way. To give us hope and bring us joy.
In part of our earlier reading from Cliff Reed, written before the pandemic, he gave thanks for the past year. I almost deleted it. Surely it is a year to forget! But then I thought, that would be to neglect what we have learnt, or what we should have learnt. For example if we have not been able to see someone or do something we may now realise how important they are. Perhaps we won’t take so much for granted in the future and possibly we will be even more grateful for the simple pleasures of life? Difficulties can teach us much if we let them, and suffering can allow our compassion to grow if it touches our heart.
This Christmas we can’t gather in the ways we might want to, or indeed are used to, but let us spend some time considering with gratitude the light that is already in our lives; whatever form that takes. Let us spend a little time considering our guiding light; and how we might connect better with that. Let us still celebrate as best as we can. The beautiful light, the awesome light, the light of friendship, the light of inspiration, the light of hope, the light of joy, the light of love that darkness cannot overcome. Let us celebrate it and share it in the ways that we can. Let us be a light in the world. Amen
Music: Ding Dong! Merrily on High, John Rutter
I Will Light Candles this Christmas – inspired by Howard Thurman
I will light candles this Christmas,
Candles of joy despite all the sadness,
Candles of courage for pandemic adversity,
Candles of hope for poverty severity,
Candles of compassion for lonely despair,
Candles of peace for hearts full of hatred,
Candles of friendship for broken community,
Candles of gratitude for all that I have,
Candles of love to inspire all my living,
Candles that will burn all year long.
As we leave here may we go with joy and peace
in our hearts.
May the blessings of Christmas be upon us,
and may the God of our understanding
be with us now and always.