Monday, December 26, 2011

Sermon - "Sharing the Light"

For Christians around the world, Jesus means a great many different things. And of course Christmas means a great many different things. For some, it’s a time to celebrate the birth of a savior. For most Unitarian Universalists, it’s a holiday of light in the cold dark winter. And it’s a time to celebrate the birth of a great spiritual teacher named Jesus.

But tonight, I want us as Unitarian Universalists to dive into the Christmas story in a deeper way. I want to dive into what it means for God to be born into a human body, in a cold dark time of year, born to an unsuspecting mother, a traveler in a foreign land without a proper place to stay for the night.

Every year when Christmas roles around and I begin to work on this particular homily I’m reminded of how rich and powerful this story is. The story of the birth itself is amazing and reminds us of the hope that rests in every single child born. But the piece of the story that I want to focus on tonight, is that God chose to be born this way. In the Christian tradition, God’s greatest gift to the world is Jesus Christ. He could have come at any time, to any person, glorious or humble. But he chose a cold dark night, and a young unwed migrant mother.

I’m not asking you to accept the details of the story. I am asking you to sit with me, and wonder what it means for the greatest gift to the world, to be born as human, fragile, vulnerable, in the cold dark night?

The power of this story is in its unlikely nature. One possibility is to point to all those details and be wowed my miracles. Another possibility is to be wowed by the simplicity. An unwed mother, travelers in a foreign land, few resources, sleeping in a stable on a cold night. All of these pieces that point to miracle, also point to the humble, to the earthly, the human.

It reminds me that the greatest gift that we can give is our humanity. The most precious thing we have to offer is the messy, humble, real humanity that rests in each of our hearts.

Just like you, I went to a few different holiday events this year. But one stands out in my mind as something special, something embodying Christmas in a special way. It was the pot-luck held at the Morris’ home. It wasn’t special in the way you might think. It had little to do with the food or decorations. It was special because of the pieces of humanity that were shared that evening. I talked with people about mental illness in the family, I talked with people about the struggle and hope to create a new life as a spouse fades in old age. I talked about the joys of parenting and the difficulty of navigating holidays after a divorce. And I was touched most of all by hearing one of our members say that this community is the only place in his life that he really feels accepted.

It’s no secret that the Morris’ have a lovely home and they throw a great party. There was plenty of food and wine. The Christmas carols were amazing. But something about this party resonated with me in a whole new way. I encountered people offering the gift of their genuine self. It was beautiful and I felt incredibly blessed to receive what was offered there.

These are the Christmas gifts that I’m interested in this year. This is the kind of giving that resonates when I hear the Christmas story. God so loved the world that he became born in flesh and blood of an infant child, to an unwed mother in a foreign land. He so loved the world that he offered the most sacred thing of all, he offered the gift of vulnerability.

You see giving the gift of ourselves is sort of like choosing what dishes to serve your guests on for dinner. Just go with me for a minute on this one. There is a choice to be made when you have gusts for dinner. Do you want to use the everyday cereal bowl… the one that you used this morning perhaps, or do you want to use the good china. It’s a choice that we make, if not with our dishes, then with our hearts. Do we want to pull out the valuable stuff, maybe dust it off, and offer something really special to the people who have gathered near. Or do we want to use the same old every-day stuff, the stuff that isn’t so rare, the stuff that’s much sturdier.

It’s true that we don’t get the most precious pieces of ourselves out all the time for every occasion. If we did that, they would be chipped and worn, and there would be hardly anything left worth enjoying about them. But if we don’t pull that nice china down from the cabinet every once in a while, if we keep our true selves hidden away, sure, they will be protected. They will sit there, safely in the dark. And they will never be enjoyed for the beauty that they hold.

If ever there is a time to pull out the special stuff and offer it to loved ones, it is Christmas. This is the season of giving, but this year I challenge you to give something more than boxes or bags. I challenge you to offer a little piece of your self, a piece of your heart, to the safekeeping of another person in your life. Because the real stuff that makes you human, the doubts and anxieties, the hopes and dreams, the mistakes, the joys, all of that messy stuff that makes us human, is the best gift of all.

This night, we gather to celebrate the story of the birth of a child. But it’s not just any birth. This is the story of how God chose to be born on earth in the form of all that is messy, all that is vulnerable and week and in need of support. This is the story of all that is good and beautiful becoming embodied in humanity. It’s that same beauty and goodness that finds expression in our messy lives. Our questions, our foibles, and joys and fears. They are the best stuff about us, and they are the best gift that we can share with one another if we choose to.

In a moment we will pass the light from candle to candle. As we do, as the room fills with a warm glow, I want you to remember that this light is beautiful, but it is only a symbol for the real gifts that we could share with one another. Unlike the material gifts that are sitting at home under the tree, the gift of our hearts is something that actually grows when we share it. Just like the candle flame that we share. Offering our genuine selves to one another is a gift that we can both give away and keep for ourselves.

The words of a lovely Christmas song sum up this idea. It’s called “Be a Candle of Hope.” The song says “Be a candle of hope, be a candle of light, a beacon of truth in a dark hopeless night. Share the light with a friend and watch the flame grow. The more light we give, the more love we’ll know. When you light another candle, you keep your light but give it away. Yet the flame grows even brighter as the darkness turns into day.”

As we move into the candle lighting and closing hymn, I want to send you with a challenge this holiday. I challenge you to let the best give you give this Christmas season not to be something that comes out of a box or a bag. Let the best thing that you give this Christmas season be a piece of your heart.


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