Recording of our December 24, 2020 Christmas Eve worship service
Donna Larkin Mohr
Happy Christmas and welcome to Birmingham Unitarian Church. We are a Unitarian Universalist congregation located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. I am Donna Larkin Mohr; I have the privilege of serving as President of the BUC Board of Trustees.
BUC is a congregation committed to social justice. This year, we’re focused on civic engagement, racial inequality, economic inequality, and environmental concerns. We’re also a capital “W” Welcoming Congregation and a Green Sanctuary Congregation.
A few notes about tonight’s service. The service is being streamed with subtitles in closed caption. On laptops and computers, you’ll find a button labeled “CC Live Transcript” on the bottom of your Zoom screen. There, you’ll find options to show or hide subtitles. Later, we will have a virtual candle lighting and you’re welcome to use any candle you have on hand. Lastly, directly following the service, we hope you’ll stay for a virtual coffee hour. We extend a special welcome to visitors who are joining us tonight, including our friends from Community Unitarian Universalists of Brighton.
Thank you, again, for joining us this Christmas Eve.
The Zamborsky family
The world is full of light.
We see it strung on houses along the street,
twinkling deep in the branches of trees.
Even on the top! A shining star.
On Christmas Eve, as we light our chalice,
we remember another star, high above
a manger in Bethlehem and a poor little babe.
May it’s glow remind us, as Unitarian Universalists,
that this light lives within each of us—as peace, goodness, and love—
and may we always help those who can’t find it.
“The Meaning of Christmas” by Lenny Scovel
Why Christmas? Especially to one who doubts? Are you not being hypocritical? Unitarian Universalists, with their penchant for secular humanism are fond of arguing the validity of Christmas: Is it a Christian holiday? A pagan holiday? A secular holiday? Even outside my UU circles there is much apathy about Christmas—"It's just another day" I've heard quoted by many. I know all this…and I don't care! I love Christmas, always have and always will. It fills me with nostalgia and generosity and goodwill. And as far as the "meaning of Christmas" is concerned, as a Unitarian Universalist, I believe it is part of our spiritual maturation to search for and assign meaning to all the days of our lives. In this, Christmas is the high-water mark of the year—a time when the world slows, and considers our relationships with each other. Isn't that in itself enough to celebrate? Worthy of decorations, lights and music? The gifts we give each other at this time of year are more than just demonstrations of our generosity—they are symbols of the gifts we are capable of giving on all the other days of our lives. Gifts of love, compassion, industry, advocacy…the gifts of our common humanity. These were the values of Jesus—the true Christian values. And if we, as Unitarian Universalists, need to reconcile the language of Jesus as the Savior in celebrating Christmas, can we not acknowledge that through his ministry of compassion, he was in fact our savior, by showing us the way to save ourselves?
“The Three Kings,” adapted and read by Nico Van Ostrand
This is the story of three kings from far away, and long ago -- so long ago, in fact, that no one really knows what their names were or where exactly they came from, or even if the story is true at all. I first learned this story from a song when I was young, a song that we’re going to sing right after this. Tonight, I’m sharing my own variation on that story.
These three kings had everything they wanted, and never worried about anything. They considered themselves good people because they donated money to charity when the opportunities presented themselves.
One evening, while hanging out in their beautiful homes surrounded by their beautiful things, the three kings saw a new star in the sky. They knew in their hearts somehow that this star meant a new, special king had just been born. “We must follow this star and meet this new king!” they said.
The three kings wrapped up fancy, expensive gifts to offer the new king. They followed the bright new star across the land until they came upon a place ruled by a cruel, powerful king named Herod.
In the palace of King Herod, the three kings enjoyed the kind of wonderful food they were used to. When they were finished with their meal, King Herod asked, “Why have you traveled so far to come here?”
“We saw the bright new star in the sky,” said one of the three kings, pointing out of the window. “We knew it meant that a new king was born and we are on our way to honor him.”
King Herod was angry that these three kings were just passing through to go see a different king. But he was clever, so he pretended that he also wanted to honor the new king.
“When you three find this new baby king,” he said, “return here and tell me where to find him so I can go welcome him to my kingdom without having to take so much time out of my kingly schedule to search for him.”
The three kings thought this was kind of a weird request, since the star was right there pointing the way. But they politely agreed, then left the palace to continue on their way.
Now, I don’t know how exactly the three kings knew -- maybe they were warned in a dream, maybe someone in the palace tipped them off -- but in any case, the three kings understood that King Herod actually wanted to harm the new baby king.
“What will we do?! I don’t want to do anything that might hurt a little baby,” said one king.
“Yeah, but if we don’t tell Herod where to find the baby, he might hurt us,” said the second king. “Maybe there’s a charity we can donate to?” the third king suggested. “Someone else is probably working to protect babies. We could just go home and pretend this never happened...”
The three kings didn’t know what to do. They’d never been in such a risky situation before. They decided to continue on their way and go visit this new king, hoping a path would become clear along the way.
Finally, the three kings came upon a small town, where the star hung directly above an old, plain barn. The kings were rather confused by this. Why would a great king be born in a dirty, smelly barn?
Yet there in the manger was a small baby, freshly wrapped in cloth. His parents sat with him, looking tired but full of joy. The light from the star outside shone into the stable and made the baby’s smooth brown skin appear to glow. The kings didn’t say anything -- they didn’t need to -- for the silence of that moment was beautiful.
As the three kings presented this baby king with the expensive gifts they’d brought, they realized beautiful things would not help the small family escape persecution; protection and freedom would be far greater gifts to this baby than frankincense and myrrh.
The kings were afraid of what Herod might do to them, and they weren’t really sure they could even make a difference. Choosing to protect a baby from a powerful king was quite a bit different from donating money to charity. What could they do to truly help this baby?
“I know,” said the first king. “We can tell his parents what we know. If they know the danger they’re in, they can run away and try to protect themselves.” “Good idea,” said the second king. “We can also go home by a different path, so King Herod waits and waits for us to return. That might delay him from sending his soldiers out to search for us or for the baby.”
“Definitely,” said the third king. “And if he does manage to catch us, we will never tell him where to find this baby.”
So the kings told the baby’s parents what they knew, and set out on a different path home with a new understanding of what it meant to truly be good and just.
As we sing this story in song form now, I invite you to think about what this story is calling you to do.
by Rev. Mandy Beal
One of the best things about returning to the same story year after year is looking for something you may not have noticed before. The story of Jesus’ birth is about the Christian belief that God chose to become human. Not only that, but God chose birth as a tiny, helpless baby. A tiny, helpless baby born to young parents who were poor and belonged to an ethnic group who were being brutally oppressed during a time of occupation. This story hinges on the belief that God literally lives in the people who are at the margins of power. In this story, God is poor. God is helpless. God needs people. And in this particular part of the story, the part about the three kings, we learn about the power of kindness.
As Nico told us, we don’t know a lot about the three kings. We don’t know a lot about anything that happened over 2000 years ago, but especially these side characters. The Bible has three different stories about the birth of Jesus and each one is a little different. Everything the Bible has to say about the three kings takes up only a few paragraphs in only one version of the story. But these characters are fascinating and many of us are curious about them.
It’s unlikely these kings thought Jesus was God or the Son of God. After all, they came from a faraway land and probably didn’t know much about the religion of ancient Israel. What they knew was something special was happening and so they wanted to know more. When they got to Jerusalem, they found out there was a tyrant who was willing to hurt a baby if that meant he got to keep his power. And they knew that was wrong.
These kings didn’t know anything about this baby, but they protected him anyway. They understood their responsibility to help a vulnerable, young family get to safety. It would have been easier for them to return to Herod and give him what he wanted. It certainly would have been safer for them to do that. But they knew it was wrong to let a helpless baby come to harm. So they risked their safety and their personal comfort to give that baby a chance. Their part of the story reveals something about human nature – our essential, universal nature is goodness and love.
Every corner and every crevice of the Christmas story reveals the power of human kindness and God’s concern for people at the margins of power. This particular part about three kings from a far away land gives us some clues about how we can use our power to protect people who need protection. And when to do what we can to push back against the power of tyrants, the crush of wealth - we bring our world a little bit closer to being a place where all babies are safe, and no one is afraid of being treated badly because they are poor or young or because of their race.
And so, as we tiptoe up to the manager to see the baby this year, let us know ourselves as protectors of the vulnerable. God is in that baby, as God is in every baby. Whoever we are, wherever we come from, each of us can do something to protect the vulnerable from the powerful. May it be so.
Rev. Mandy: From the year that has been, we rekindle the warmth of community; our dedication to equity for all people; and our commitment to living joyfully. We rekindle our hope.
Nico: For the year to come, we light our way with justice born of our work and risk; the vibrance of respect for all cultures; and the power of vulnerability. We light our way with love.
Rev. Mandy: From our ancestors we call forth strength for the struggle; healing for wounds of our souls; and unshakeable faith in the world we create with our actions. We call forth illumination of the paths of righteousness.
Nico: For the generations to come we commit ourselves to protect tenderness; to action; and to nurturing the divine spark in the heart of every person. We commit ourselves to peace. Please join me in lighting a candle.
“Now the Work of Christmas Begins,” by Howard Thurman
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks,
the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.