And the Days Get Shorter Still

In 2020 the practice of waiting has taken on new dimensions. We are waiting for a vaccine, and a return to travel and carefree gatherings. Join Rev. Sue Browning as we consider how the seasonal lessons about waiting and preparation may help us in this oddest of years. The service will include a lighting of Hanukkah candles. The will be a Zoom Service at 10 a.m.. Access the service using the information below. 

The service was held on Zoom on Dec. 13.

A recording of the service is online here.

 

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Script of the service, including the sermon

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River

Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at Easton

Spirit of Life       

We’ll begin with Spirit of Life, today as offered by Philip Dutton.

Welcome – Sue

Chalice Lighting –

Our chalice lighting words today.

By Melanie Davis

If ever there were a time for a candle in the darkness,
this would be it.
Using a spark of hope,
kindle the flame of love,
ignite the light of peace,
and feed the flame of justice.

Hymn  #221  “Light One Candle”

(Dave Moore)

Thoughts for All Ages

Our Thoughts for All Ages is prepared by another minister, Joanna Lubkin, and she grew up in the Jewish tradition. She will light the Menorah, and we’ll light our menorah here.

Video of Rev. Joanna Lubkin.

Meditation

I invite us into a time of meditation, a time of reflection, with the words of Gwen Matthews.

“You Are the Holiday Miracle”  

As December opens up before us, we welcome in the gift of reflection. We turn toward our holiday celebrations and search for common threads of meaning.

We begin with Yule, the winter solstice, and we are invited to explore duality, cycles, and seasons, and to witness the Holly King being overcome by the Oak King. Yule reminds us that we all partake in the miracle of renewal.

Hanukkah, the festival of lights, commemorates a time of miracles when the faith of the Jewish people sustained them to reclaim their holy temple and keep the light of the menorah burning for eight days.

Christmas, the celebration of Jesus’ humble birth in a manger, offers us to revisit the miracle of birth and the desire to find saviors to heal the scars of humanity.

Here, in our congregations, you are just as much a holiday miracle as the turning of the earth, as persistence and dedication to a faith, as the creation of each new life.

We see the love you give to others, the space you create to hold one another’s joys and sorrows, and the generosity and spirit you entrust to this community.

You are the holiday miracle. This community is one of miracle-makers.

 

We take a moment and reflect…

What is the role we are called to this season?

Where might we offer space to another to hold their joys and sorrows?

Where do we need to receive? To be comforted? To be reassured?

Take a moment to reflect on this community, gathered in the unique way of 2020? How will we give and receive from one another this season?

 

Joys and Sorrows

We build community by sharing our joys and sorrows; our concerns and uncertainties.

We have been at a distance for so long, and still we’ve shared, in various forms.

And we do so today.…

 

Music  ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’

Recorded by Ellen and Carey Miller.

Sermon, Rev. Sue Browning

“And the Days Get Shorter Still”

One day this week I was driving in Easton. I was in a pleasant, non-rushed mode, rather enjoying my slow erranding before I headed over to the office.

I ended up on the side street behind Walgreens and planned to make the right onto Dover Rd. Traffic was stopped. For me, and the three other cars waiting on the side street, life was on hold. “Oh well,” I thought.

Yet, the person behind me kept honking. And honking. In my rearview mirror I saw a young man in a large pick up. He clearly did not want to wait. He’d honk, and move a bit closer to my car.  “Really?” I thought in exasperation.

I tried to give him a break – to hold my judgment. I didn’t know the ‘why’ of his urgency. Maybe he needed to get back to work on time, or to meet a commitment to a grandparent.

Well maybe. Or possibly all this waiting just felt a waste of his time. He was declaring his time was important. I heard his growing frustration.

Yet, I’m sure he too could see what I could. There were no options. No place to turn, or bypass the. “Calm down, calm down,” I silently declared, “It will be minutes – not hours, or weeks or months until we’re moving.” Maybe in his youth he thought his cries (in the form of honking) would change the

While, his honking wasn’t going to resolve the traffic, at least in my wisdom I couldn’t figure out how, maybe he just a little better by letting out his frustration.

The scene seems a summary picture of 2020.

Stuck. No work arounds. No turning back. And some days, we have had the needed patience, we want to cry out: “Make it be over.”

That is our backdrop for our Holidays this year. A holding pattern.

When my colleague Rev. Joanna Lubkin shared her story of Hannukah (video shared earlier in service), we heard the rabbis had debated on the format of the candle lighting ritual and chose a sequence which incrementally adds light. It’s a ritual to remember a time of not knowing. The bets were way against the oil lasting, yet we have a ritual which leans into hope, especially in times of uncertainty. One can imagine the angst of the waiting – the concerns. Hanukkah – multiple days, and a marking of time.

Did you see my colleague’s setting – the Menorah and an Advent wreath, comfortably sitting together on her table? The setting behind me here today.

Advent is the four Sundays before Christmas. I recall the 3 purple and one pink candle being lit on the Advent wreath in the Episcopal church of my youth. I sensed a count down, though in honestly it was far from a religious countdown.

I waited through December for presents on Christmas morning. Period. Both the giving and the receiving of gifts. There wasn’t anything calm or still in my waiting and my ramping up, or my family’s ramping up, for the Holidays. A month of feeling urgency, not a religious waiting.

Consider the images around the solstice; images of gentle stillness. Trees in snow, sunrises, sunsets, candles. Peaceful images of waiting calmly for the turning. And yet the waiting I know, and those before me have known, is a waiting more often girded with the anxiety of waiting – not the calm.

As we wait, we mark time and prepare. We want to be reassured the waiting will be over soon.

Advent is a religious time of preparation. The preparation of Advent is less about preparing meals, decorating space, and gift exchange, and more about preparing hearts. In the cycle of Advent there is a readying for the arrival of God; the coming of the divine incarnate in Jesus. It is a spiritual preparation time.

How does one prepare for a visit from God? If God is all that is good, and a source of imagining what could and should be;  if God is the source of all love – how does one ready for the new arrival? What is to be done? Sit calmly? Is that even possible?

One of the readings most often used around Advent that teaches us of preparation is from the Hebrew Scriptures Isaiah 40:3-5 – written likely 700 years before Jesus’s times.

3 A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

For context, this reading is set at the time of a major interruption in the lives of the Jewish people – the exile to Babylon. This was forced time of ‘stepping away’ from Jerusalem, and the routines of their lives. It’s a time of waiting in lament; in sadness. And a reassurance of glory to be revealed after the waiting.

Maybe this is not unlike the questions we bring into this 2020 season – our waiting hearts.

We’re invited to use our waiting time well. In Isaiah there a call to focus – to clear the way – to open a path for all. Preparation as we wait isn’t to be easy – it is an active waiting, maybe to help with the anxiety – to add purpose to the time.

Advent breaks down the waiting. One interpretation is that the candles signify the ways we prepare – focus on hope one week, then peace, then love and finally joy.

Advent encompasses waiting for Jesus as human and as divine.

The waiting for a human birth is specific. It is finite. After 9 months, plus or minus a few weeks, the waiting is over, and new life emerges. An active waiting to be sure, and with an end point.

Advent is a waiting for the specific birth, and it is also about the waiting for Christ to come back – the 2nd coming.

This waiting is more uncertain and undefined. The expectation is of return, but is dwarfed by the unknown. In the stories of the early Christians we know this waiting was harder. In one interpretation, “Since no one knows the day or hour when Christ will return (not even the angels!) we are not to spend our time trying to figure out when or how it will happen. This is not our concern. Rather, our charge is to ‘keep alert’ and ‘keep awake’…” There is a role here of witness. To keep doing what is right.

Would Christ some again? Advent asks us to hold this broader uncertainty. And to not wait passively but to continually prepare – to stay ready.

I can’t help but note that it is 9 months to the day that most of us can recall back to the first day of the pandemic. About March 13 or 14, 2020 the shutdown took hold.

We enter this season very aware that there is not going to be a moment of pandemic ending. It’s not the 9-month gestation type of waiting. It’s more layered. More uncertain.

We see glimmers of hope…or light, and too we wonder what we can trust. We feel moments of joy…and too we see profound suffering.

We are not the first to tire of waiting. In the scriptures, the prophet Isaiah goes on (40, v 28)

28 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary;
his understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
30 Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
31 but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.

When he wrote, Isaiah would have had no sense of an Advent wreath or any other Christian symbols. Isaiah would have had no specific story of the Maccabees, the festival of lights – Hannukah – that would be centuries later.

Nor would Isaiah have known of pick-up trucks and honking on a side street in Easton. Yet, we can hear that Isaiah did know, without these particulars, of stressful times. He knew of the challenge exile, the waiting. We know of the pause of Covid, our waiting.

Isaiah invited those in exile to prepare for return. To be patient and to trust there would be a turning. And to use the time of waiting to ready for the changes that would come.

What does it look like in 2020 to prepare? More specifically, what might it look like for a Unitarian Universalist to spiritually prepare in a time of prolonged uncertainty?

We draw from many sources to ground our UU faith. We are interested in learning of religious traditions – in our curious sort of way. When we offer the experience of lighting Hanukkah candles or images of an Advent, my hope is we are considering how they have meaning for us our lives – the deep parts, the places where we long for wholeness and connection.

Where are we called to smooth out what we can? To keep in focus the hope, peace, love and joy that are a part of our lives, even in exile – the wilderness – during interruption.

After 9 months of waiting, I think we all have moments of just wanting to relentlessly honk. We are weary. Of the virus, of elections, of restrictions. And our weariness comes through as irritability, or feeling drained, or in a hyper-active doing. We try to make our world – whether in the classroom, or doctor’s office, or small business – as close as it was to ‘before’ – We wait in frustration, and there is a sadness that we need to name.

Amidst it all there is excitement about presents – giving and receiving them. And joy in sharing with those with greater community whose uncertainties may be greater than those we may face.

Isaiah’s call from the wilderness invites us to take time to prepare our hearts, especially in times of uncertainty. He invites us to keep doing that which helps us find our point of patience and balance. He invites us pay attention – to see the light that is here, and to trust more light will come.

I hope as we light the candles of the season and the carry forward traditions which have marked waiting that we sense the glimpse of light in our world. A peek at vaccines that work, and can be produced and administered. An awareness of improvements in treatment and testing. Pride in creative adaptation, and enjoyment in the small bits of the familiar.

May we rest in the comfort of ancient words; words with a fresh meaning in 2020; may we light the candles fresh understanding in this year of waiting together.

May It Be So

 

Hymn #224    “Let Christmas Come”

 

Board and Other Announcements

 

Closing Words and Extinguishing the Chalice

Words by Cynthia Landrum

We leave this gathered community,
But we don’t leave our connection,
Our concerns, our care for each other.
Our service to each other, to the world, and to our faith continues.
Until we are together again, friends,
Be strong, be well, be true, be loving.

Go in peace, go in love, go knowing love surrounds you wherever you may go.

Postlude – (Instrumental)

Recorded by Ellen.

 

 

 

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