Christmas Eve: "Blessings, Come"

Greetings and welcome to Beacon Unitarian Universalist congregation to our members friends and everyone joining us in our virtual congregation on youtube today hello i’m the Reverend Robin Landerman Zucker minister of this congregation and i will be hosting our virtual recorded service for christmas eve december 24th 2020 with worship associates our choir members and our musicians Roomie Wood and Rebecca Prizznick. we’ll share familiar carols listen to glorious music and inspiring readings to warm and brighten this complicated christmas we’re glad you’re here and that you’ve made beacon unitarian universalist congregation part of this day or evening in your spiritual life whether you are a regular viewer or you are joining us for the first time we’re here every week on youtube and we’ll be home at 510 north Leroux street in flagstaff when it is safe enough to gather again in person our congregation is spiritually open and intentionally inclusive whoever you are and whoever you love you are always welcome here our members and friends bring many interests theologies and viewpoints to our door and here we trust you will find a common desire for meaningful community and spiritual growth and for relevant religious exploration in a framework with very flexible borders membership in this congregation is open to anyone who chooses to walk with us in the spirit of love the search for truth and the pursuit of justice as i light the chalice the symbol of our free faith please light your own chalice or candle at home as we recite the unison words you will see on your screen the mission and covenant of beacon express our values and our vision of ourselves as a gathered community in the world please say the mission and covenant with me you will see the words

on your screen if you’re watching as part of our watch party on December 24th at 5 30 we will be pausing later in the service to have some live sharing to light candles and to sing silent night but now let us behold the story which we tell again every year and let us hear even beyond the words stories and music those deeper human truths of love and blessing born again and again among us and through us so i offer you this reading from the gospel of luke in those days a decree went out from caesar augustus that all the world should be enrolled this was the first enrollment while Querenius was governor of Syria and all went to be enrolled each in his own city and joseph also went up to galilee from the city of nazareth to judea to the city of David which is called bethlehem because he was of the house and lineage of david to be enrolled with mary his betrothed who was with child and while they were there the time came for her to be delivered and she gave birth to her first born son and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger because there was no place for them at the end and in that region there were shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flock by night and an angel of the lord appeared to them and they were filled with fear and the angel said to them be not afraid this will be a sign for you you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger and suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising god and saying glory to god in the highest and on earth peace good will among all souls when the angel went away from them into heaven the shepherd said to one another let us go over to bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the lord has made known to us and they went with haste and found mary and joseph and the babe lying in a manger and when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told concerning this child and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them but mary kept all these things pondering them in her heart and the shepherds returned glorying and praising god for all they had heard and seen as they had been told please join me in singing joy to the world our opening words are counting our blessings by Anne Lamott why we say grace we didn’t say grace at our house when i was growing up because my parents were atheists

i knew even as a little girl that everyone at every table needed blessing and encouragement but my family didn’t ask for it instead my parents raised glasses of wine to the chef cheers dig in but i had a terrible secret which was that i believed in god a divine presence who heard me when i prayed who stayed close to me in the dark so at six years old i began to infiltrate religious families like a spy mata hari and plaid sneakers one of my best friends was a catholic girl her boisterous family bowed its collective head and said bless us o lord and these thy gifts i was so hungry for these words it was like a cool breeze a polite thank you note to god the silky magnetic energy of gratitude i still love that line in my spiritual sleuthing i noticed some family shorted shortened the pro-forma blessing to a monastic chant said as one word god is great god is good glad to thank him for our food amen and we’ve all been held hostage by grace sayers who use the opportunity to work the room like the church lady lordy it turns out that my two brothers and i grew up to be middle-aged believers i’ve been a member of the same presbyterian church for 27 years my brother became a born-again christian but don’t ask him to give the blessing as it can last forever i adore him but your food will grow cold my younger brother is an unconfirmed but freelance catholic so now somewhat our holiday table always ends up saying grace i think we’re in it for the pause the quiet thanks for love and second chances and for blessings before the shoveling begins for a minute our stations are tuned to a broader richer radius we’re acknowledging that this food didn’t just magically appear someone grew it ground it bought it baked it wow we say thank you for the miracle that we have stuck together all these years in spite of it all that we have each other’s backs and hilarious companionship we pray to be mindful of the needs of others we savor these moments out of time when we are conscious of love’s presence of someone’s great abiding generosity to our dear and motley family these holy moments of gratitude and that is grace the nicest gifts i ever got by Clark Dewey Wells

during this season of giving a good exercise is to make a list of the best gifts we ever got that’ll tell us what’s important for ourselves and for the people we want to give gifts to while i remember the daniel boone hat and the magician hat with special affection the nicest gifts i ever got are in quite another category the carrolineur at Rockefeller chapel who told me to strike one of the largest tune bells in the world during his playing of einfestaborg my mother giving me a complete Shakespeare set for my 14th birthday coach al terry saying little wells grab your bonnet and permitting me to enter as a freshman into my very first varsity football game a beautiful lady on a ship when i was still an acne teenager who kissed my face all over and told me that she thought i was handsome dr harry wilson wyman telling me thought that for several hours about a question i had raised in responding with a written answer the next day in front of the whole class night after night my father playing catch with me in the backyard until it was so dark i couldn’t see a unitarian minister in kalamazoo who put his arm around me after my father died and he kept it there for a long time a friend who flew several hundred miles to visit me when i was sick and a buddy who went to see three movies with me on the same day the nicest gifts that people have given me have been enabling confirming gifts besowing understanding and self-esteem help in time of trouble and delight for ordinary days may i suggest that you too drop a list of the nicest gifts that you’ve ever received i think it’ll give some perspective to the kinds of gifts we really want to give to each other this christmas or anytime please join me in singing jingle bells the Reverend Davidson Loehr shares the very personal and profound experience

of unexpectedly finding himself cast as a stranger seeking shelter one christmas season he had decided to drive 500 miles from austin texas to clarinda iowa to visit his aging and ailing grandfather whom he hadn’t seen for nine years he called grandpa who said it would be just fine to visit after christmas so davidson set out on his own christmas pilgrimage a few miles outside clarinda his aging datsun failed and a lady at the nearest farmhouse wouldn’t let him use the phone finally her husband came down a big burly fellow and said he could come in and make the call but don’t go walking into other rooms davidson got himself towed to a local garage where the mechanic quipped nice car did you make it by the time he got to his grandfather’s it was late cold dark and windy with blowing snow he knocked and a few moments later when this dear old man opened the door davidson became aware of two things simultaneously he writes the first was that he had no idea who i was he was quite senile he didn’t know me although my last name rang a bell i came to see my grandfather and he opened the door to find a complete stranger coming from far away on a cold dark snowy night the second thing i noticed just as quickly was that even while he had no idea who this strange young man on his porch was he was opening his door as wide as he could and welcoming me inside davidson stayed for two days during the lucid moments they shared memories but davidson had to introduce himself to grandpa several times a day he recalls every time i would come out of one of his rooms and he would come out of another he would be mildly shocked to find a stranger in his home and would say again well hello and welcome and who may you be davidson can’t help but liken himself to mary and joseph when he recalls this memorable odd visit every time there is room at an end he tells us every time we overcome fear with love the stage is set for another kind of manger scene where something holy can be born it happened to me so i can testify to it my homily for this Christmas Eve is entitled Blessings, Come one of the most meditative

and scenic pleasures of visiting cape cod in massachusetts is the perk of morning walks on endless stretches of local beaches at sunrise my colleague the rev bill clark who lives in provincetown at the tip of the cape is often heard rhapsodizing about the gift at his sandy feet and he has shared one particular memory of one such dawn stroll at race point beach as bill was walking down the beach he encountered a woman standing at the ocean edge shouting blessings come blessings come blessings come in bill’s ministerial mind it appeared that she was beseeching the universe or god to solve some pain or answer some prayer he felt that pastoral urge and approached her he said he was a minister had overheard her plea blessings come and would lend a listening ear and an open heart if she wished the woman looked confused at first and then burst out laughing hysterically bill was puzzled but quite intrigued blessings is the name of my golden retriever puppy she explained he’s run off i was calling him back blessings doesn’t always come when i call but thanks so much anyway i appreciate your concern and your kindness and then she went back to the task at hand blessings come blessings come blessings come bill continued down the beach with a smile and in his words with an eye out for blessings this is a homily about keeping an eye out for blessings and even more so about calling out for them time and again even when they don’t always come when we call like this cape cod puppy still learning voice commands at least they don’t come right away and at least not necessarily in 2020 tonight we celebrate and lift up a very particular perennial blessing that defies the calendar the pandemic the weariness we feel the symbolism of a babe born in a manger under a luminous star in a silent and holy night as the reverend meg barnhouse tells us a new baby has all the possibilities in the world it carries all the hopes and dreams later on as it grows

and matures it becomes more real and if you are skilled and lucky it grows richer and deeper as life starts you care for it and nurture it you are careful with it you delight in it a baby full of possibilities and then she concludes no wonder christmas is such a well-loved holiday we get to coo over the baby god and feel the aching openness of a heart at the very beginning yet babes grow into adults into a world that is not always kind or easy or just hearts can close evil can prevail pandemics can descend throughout our hurting and hopeful world and within our own hurting and hopeful and utterly human selves there is pain and sorrow indeed there are times when we would give anything for blessings to come when we call even so whenever possible remember that baby full of possibilities born only knowing joyful welcome in a manger thousands of years ago and allow blessings to come anyway ask yourself what blessings are calling to you a repaired relationship restored health taming addictions or anger a revived career or a fruitful retirement a new original blessing of some sort and by all means give yourself permission to rejoice with others to find joy in another’s joy it’s the secret to true happiness and peace or as mother teresa of calcutta who lived among some of the most profound human suffering imaginable has remarked she gives most who gives with joy not long before his death quite unexpectedly at the age of 52 the famed Irish poet John O’donohue was interviewed for the NPR program speaking of faith and during that broadcast O’donohue the author of the much-loved spiritual classic Anam Cara makes the case for recovering what he calls the lost art of blessing he reminds us that it would be infinitely lonely to live in a world without blessing the world with a word blessing evokes a sense of warmth and protection it suggests that no life is alone or unreachable the commercial edge of so-called progress has cut away a huge region region of human tissue and webbing that held us in communion with one another our times are desperate for meaning and belonging and a blessing can be like a discovery of a fresh well if only we could discover or rediscover our power to bless one another because i believe each of us can bless for when blessing is invoked it changes the atmosphere some of the plentitude flows into our hearts from the invisible neighborhood of loving-kindness in the light of blessing a person or situation becomes illuminated in a completely different way in a dead wall a new window opens in a dense darkness a path starts to glimmer and into a broken heart healing falls like morning dew let us begin to learn to bless one another O’Donohue who beseeches us whenever you give a blessing a blessing returns to unfold you i’m thinking now of the moment in the gospels near the end of Jesus’s life when he’s about to leave his disciples at the end of his ministry and he offers this blessing these things have i spoken to you that my joy may be in you and that joy may be full the Reverend Jane Rzepka considers jesus’s legacy and writes i figure it this way jesus is honored as a wise teacher not because he was born but because he grew up and changed the world the same goes for buddha and confucius and any number of religious figures and the same goes for any of us part of what we love and celebrate and the babies in our life is the promise they hold

as they grow from babyhood into old age we are all one time holy babes now balding and spreading now flossing and watching our weight but nonetheless divinely blessed some of us we grow into laptop dogs and others into agility champs but we’re all blessed every which way each person hearing this homily tonight was born at a sacred time and no matter what the circumstances whether you were greeted with joy or despair whether you were healthy or weak whether you were an easy baby or utterly exhausting like an overly rambunctious puppy we too were filled with promise we who were once newborn now grown are filled with promise still and that’s holy holy stuff so let every heart prepare him room may we say grace in our own unique vernaculars like annie lamont at holiday tables and altars quiet thanks for love and life’s gifts before the shoveling begins with our stations tuned to a broader richer radius may we recheck our list of the nicest gifts we have or might receive like the reverend clark wells and may we overcome fear with love like davidson lore and welcome a stranger or be welcomed as one and may blessings be born not just when we’re feeling good but rather when we are most in need of saving grace may blessings come when we beckon them to us at the ocean’s edge and may blessings flourish and multiply as we send them forth on a wintry wind of hope on this and every silent and holy night may we be blessed with one another’s company soon tonight as we gather in spirit i say blessed be blessed we blessings come blessed night. we will pause now for our watch party to have some live sharing to light candles and then we’ll be back to sing silent night in the season of sacred hymns and rousing carols how can we keep from singing spirit of life remind us to sing in this season of celebrations and joy when there is still plenty of loneliness and despair behind the tinsel how can we keep from caring spirit of life remind us to care in the season of miracles when a bright red ribbon of mystery is wrapped around this gift we call life how can we keep from wondering spirit of life remind us to wonder in this season of anticipation and magic when children’s faces beam like northern lights how can we keep from laughing spirit of life remind us to laugh in the season of hope when people throughout the world are praying for peace good will and health how can we keep from praying spirit of life remind us to pray and in this season of darkness and candlelight when the flame is passed lovingly among us in fellowship how can we keep from shining spirit of life please keep our candles lit throughout the year and remind us to shine please join me in singing silent night our tradition on christmas eve is to take a donation for the minister’s discretionary fund

but this year we’re asking for a holiday gift to help support our operating budget and make up some of the revenue we would have received from rentals and other activities that we haven’t been able to have because of the pandemic there are two ways you can donate you may have received a letter from us with a return envelope but if not you can go to our website beaconu.com click the donate button and make a secure online donation through the vanco application if you use this method we ask that you use a bank account not a credit card to save us some fees or you can send us a check to 510 north leroux street flagstaff arizona 86001 and put holiday gift in the note for either the online donation or the check either way we greatly appreciate your support especially during this challenging year and finally may we come together as a community virtually holding hands feeling the power and warmth of this community and all that it represents and remember that whether we are together or a part we are blessed by being in this community and we are beacon always connected no matter what i offer in benediction this lovely simple poem of the season just called christmas time fall snow dream night shine tree fire be bright carolers sing bells chime heart remember christmas time peace prevail world rest you friends be blessed friends be blessed friends be blessed friends be blessed