Because I somehow think I'm some kind of writer, I volunteered to write the children's portion of my church's Christmas Eve service. And because I have suffered from writer's block, I flagrantly lifted text used in my parents' church (which is 750 miles away, so I doubt anyone at church will recognize it).
"Stealing" a worship service from a Presbyterian church is not necessarily as easy as it sounds. Because I adapted it to become (a) Unitarian Universalist, and (b) kid-friendly. When I wrote our church's holiday play a couple of years ago, the words practically flew out of my fingers onto the screen. This one required more thought. Which, yeah, suggests that I might have had an easier time coming up with something completely original.
But I didn't. And, despite the theological differences between Unitarian Universalism and Presbyterianism, I think I've come up with something nice.
Spoiler alert...if you're going to Neshoba Church's Christmas Eve service tonight (at 6 p.m.!), you might not want to read this.
Seriously. Don't read it before the service.
Are you still reading? Don't say I didn't warn you.
"Let there be light"
Staging: after I welcome the congregation and the kids join me on the podium, the lights will be turned off, even the Christmas tree lights. Pitch black, or pretty close. Six readers are assembled.
In the beginning, when it was very dark, God said: ‘Let there be light.’
AND THERE WAS LIGHT. (I light the reader's candle.)
Light goes on shining in the darkness
AND THE DARKNESS HAS NEVER PUT IT OUT.
Reader 1 lights the candle of reader 2, then walks to the front right corner of the sanctuary.
Carrying a candle
From one little place of shelter
Is an act of love.
Reader 2 lights the candle of reader 3, then walks to the back right corner of the sanctuary.
To move through the huge
And hungry darkness, step by step,
Against the invisible wind
That blows for ever around the world,
Carrying a candle,
Is an act of foolhardy hope.
Reader 3 lights the candle of reader 4, then walks to the back center of the sanctuary.
Surely it will be blown out:
The wind is contemptuous,
The darkness cannot comprehend it.
How much light can this tiny flame shed
On all the great issues of the day?
It is as helpless as a newborn child.
Reader 4 lights the candle of reader 5, then walks to the back left corner of the sanctuary.
Look how the human hand,
That cradles it, has become translucent:
Fragile and beautiful; foolish and loving.
Step by step.
Reader 5 lights the candle of reader 6, then walks to the front left corner of the sanctuary.
The wind is stronger than this hand,
And the darkness infinite
Around this tiny here-and-now flame
That wavers, but keeps burning:
Carried with such care
Through an uncaring world
From one little place of shelter to another.
An act of love.
The light shines in the darkness
And the darkness can never put it out.
You are like light for the whole world. A church with doors open wide, welcoming all and serving all, cannot remain a secret.
A home filled with love, nurturing, supporting, forgiving, caring, will never be empty and lonely.
A life spent in service, volunteering, helping, sharing, will never be ignored or forgotten.
In this season of long nights and short days, we are here to watch and wait for the coming of light into the world. We long for the day when the things of darkness—selfishness and greed, suffering and oppression---shall be no more. We seek ways to help hasten that day.
Together, we can
Light up the past
That we might learn from it with thankfulness.
Together, we can
Light up the present
That we might live in it with love.
Together, we can
Light up the future
That we might prepare for it in hope.
As we watch and wait,
May we be always ready to find the holy
Which is already and always with us.
The Ancients greeted the longest, darkest time of the year with rituals and celebrations of light and fire, anxious to keep the darkness at bay, hopeful of a return of the light. Gradually this dark season was transformed to a time of the bringing of the good news: Light DWELLS among us! We strive to share the light---the light of hospitality, of acceptance and inclusion, of love.
As we enter this special season, we think of all the holiday preparations---the baking, the shopping, cards and gifts, decorations….sometimes it is fun and exciting….and sometimes it is exhausting and overwhelming. Just like the Ancients, we huddle together for warmth, for companionship, in the season of long nights and short days. We may try to get together with lots of family and friends, and try to squeeze in parties and open houses and caroling and the Nutcracker and concerts and the Christmas Carol….as if there won’t be time after December 25 for any of this! But the season calls us to stop. To wait. To think about what lies ahead…the light is returning. What does this really mean for us?
We wait in the darkness of the season. We notice the nights drawing in. As we notice the darkness of our world---the violence and pain, the fear and uncertainty, we can open our hearts to that darkness. We notice the darkness in our own lives, our personal struggles. We know that in the darkness, in all those places of darkness, the holy is still present, already present.
So, in the darkness we wait for the coming of the Light into the world.
Christmas celebrates the birth of a special baby who grew up to change religion as it was known before. His light shines in the darkness, illuminating every corner…we cannot help but see the poor, the oppressed, the ignored, the neglected, the stranger in need. Now that we can see---what will we do?
It is easy welcome friends and loved ones…but can we welcome the stranger too? Hospitality---the gift of welcoming not just the friend but the stranger too---and it’s not that simple. In Celebrate Advent, by John Hendrix, it says “God’s people were strangers in Palestine, but they could never quite settle on what to do with the strangers in their midst. For most of the ancient world, the stranger was an enemy---an unknown sinister one who needed to be driven away. Yet, they were not quite sure because the stranger might be a messenger from God. This feeling of fear and suspicion was mixed with fascination, curiosity, and the need to be helpful.” Abraham welcomed three strangers to his tent in the desert…and they brought a blessing and a promise of a son. The Bible wants us to know that welcoming a stranger brings us close to an experience with God. …Jesus says, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.”
But it’s easy to welcome the sweet little baby, boy-child of Mary, meek and mild. What about welcoming the Jesus who ate with sinners and had tax collectors and prostitutes for friends? The person who broke the rules and had no place to lay his head? Is that the kind of person we want in our homes? The Baby Jesus remains, in some ways, a stranger, one who, by his example, asks us to do difficult things---to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, care for the outcast, welcome the stranger, do unto others as we would have them do unto us, be the light in a dark world.
holy child of bethlehem, whose parents found no room at the inn; we pray for those who are homeless.
holy child of bethlehem, born in a stable; we pray for all who are living in poverty.
holy child of bethlehem, rejected stranger; we pray for all who are lost, alone, all who cry for loved ones.
holy child of bethlehem, whom herod sought to kill; we pray for all who live in danger, all who are persecuted.
holy child of bethlehem, a refugee in egypt; we pray for all who are far from their home.
holy child of bethlehem, help us to see the divine image in people everywhere.
With lights on the trees
With holiday cards and greetings
With letters of remembrance and thankfulness
With packages under the tree
With donations to MIFA, Habitat for Humanity, Bond Homes, Heifer International
Invite blessings into your home
Welcome the lonely, the sick, the downtrodden, the homeless, the jobless, the poor, the forgotten
Be the light to the world! Be the light to the world! (Christmas tree lights are lit up)
All readers return to the front and sanctuary lights are turned back on.