© Jackie Porter, 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
December 26, 2010

Listen to Audio Version of Whole Service (mp3)
Listen to Audio Version of Sermon (mp3)

"Twas the night before Christmas and all thru the house..." well, it was pretty hectic at our house. I had been making lists and checking them twice for weeks. There was a lot to do and I didn't seem to want to leave anything out. I am such a tradition keeper. We had written cards, put up the tree, shopped for presents, got the guest room ready, made cookies and fruit cake and wrapped and mailed presents. Lots to be done, but it did come, Christmas came. Our kids came for Christmas Eve dinner and this year we all came to Mission Peak for the Christmas Eve service and the inspiring candle light of that evening still flickers in my memory.

It's good to note that though I am talking about the celebration of Christmas, nearly every religion has a ritual of sacred light coming into the world during our darkest winter months. We are familiar with Hanukah, Dawali, Kwanza, and there are many others. It's important to recognize darkness and celebrate light, the sun which lights our day and the inner light which burns deep within us...

There are two things that most of your know about me. First of all, I am a Unitarian Universalist Christian and also, I have a deep love for poetry. It may not surprise you to find that I love Christmas and this morning; all three of these things come together. I began this morning with the well-known Christmas poem "Twas the Night Before Christmas." And another poem by Grace Noll Crowell has for years been a mantra for my holiday preparations:

I shall attend to my little errands of love early, this year
So that the brief days before Christmas may be unhampered and clear of the fever of hurry.
The breathless rushing that I have known in the past shall not possess me
I shall be calm in my soul and ready at last for Christmas, the Mass of the Christ.
I shall take time to watch the beautiful light of a candle's flame.
I shall have leisure; I shall go out alone from my roof and my door.
I shall not miss the silver silence of the stars as I have before.
And Oh, perhaps if I stand there very still and very long
I shall hear what the clamor of living has kept from me, the angel's song!

Well, I tried.

In the Christmas story, I know the angels sang about peace and goodwill. I made a real effort to stay in the moment, checking often to see how peaceful my own heart was and how much ease and peace we were experiencing as a family. Even though peace was my goal, bouts of stress and anxiety, even came sneaking for me. I did have some leisure, looking at the lights of our tree, every year John says this one is the prettiest. I contemplated the many Christmases which John and I have shared, 58 to be exact! And what this celebration really means to me.

I'm grateful for the mythical story of the birth of Jesus, a man who became one of the world's greatest spiritual teachers; a man who brought a profound message of love and compassion into the world ...It's a pretty spectacular story, all right, announced by angels, attended by the whole spectrum of culture, lowly shepherds and royal kings. This message of love which he brought would be a gift for everyone! Love is such a mysterious and powerful force, with no effort at all; it can bind us together as one. I treasure this special time to ponder the light of Love, the Divine spark which is the core of each of us. And, for me, it is always a balancing act to get everything ready and stay present enough to remember the angel's song and choose to be at peace. And so here we are, the day after Christmas. It's the morning after. What comes next?

This brings me to my third Christmas poem which may help us ponder our path and plant a few seeds which could give us direction for our new year coming right up. I am sure you have heard this poem written by a renowned educator, theologian and civil rights activitist, Howard Thurman.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star is in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
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 brothers,
   and to make music in the heart.

The WORK begins! I have to laugh! Two or three weeks ago I told Jack Mulcahy that I was going to do the service today and asked him what we should do after Christmas and without batting an eye he said, "Relax!" Right! Relax seems like a good idea and I'm sure we need some of that too!

But this poem suggests some work for us to do, a calling which seems to happen naturally when our hearts have been refreshed and reborn in love and peace and we feel connected to one another.

At the beginning of Advent, Rev. Jeremy talked about the Christian paradox: not only had the Messiah come but they are still waiting for his return. Well, we must wait no longer. I agree with Rev. Jeremy and Gandhi that we are the one that we are waiting for. I am the one and you. We are the ones who must open our hearts, dust off the spark of the Divine which is waiting there and let it do its work. We are the light which can shine in the darkness. We are to awaken from our unconscious slumber and be present to one another with love.

So, here we are. The angel's song is over, the shepherds are back on the hills, and the kings are home. I want us to look quickly at what Mr. Thurman suggests is the work which we are called to do and notice if any of it resonates with you.

First we are to find the lost.

Where do I look to find a lost person? Well, we know our streets are one place. There we would find people who seem lost, have no home, no security. I am grateful for the shelters and organizations which serve them which we need to support. A new one which I just recently heard about is: EveryOneHome. They are seeking to end homelessness here in Alameda County by 2020. An awesome undertaking!

I also want to suggest that we might look for the lost among ourselves. Psychologists know that many of us live with a profound sense of loneliness, isolation and depression brought about, in part, by our highly mobile society. Most of us don't live in one community long enough to develop histories with nearby families, and don't have lots of family around to function as a support a guide. Ann Simpkinson, writing in Common Boundary magazine, reminds us that in days gone by, when we were embedded in a community and part of a social structure which told us who we are, we were not lost. "But times have changed; now we are forced to carve out our own roles as well as develop a set of values, a life purpose, construct an independent personality and a sense of personal worth." It is a demanding task and we can lose our way in the busy world and at times feel struggling and lost.

This is a calling for each of us. We need to slow down and take the time to find ourselves, know who we are, connect with our deepest authentic self, ask for guidance and then listen intently, the heart speaks softly.

Rev. Thurman says "this is the only true guide you will ever have and if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the end of strings that someone else pulls.

Next. We are to heal the broken.

I'm sure we all know people suffering from broken lives, someone who has been torn open by anxieties brought on by a crisis, loss of a loved one, loss of a job, substance abuse, divorce or depression. I am grateful that there are support groups, mental health hot lines, and organizations in our community which are trained to help these in trauma. Our own Rev. Barbara Meyers works at this full time and Rev. Jeremy and our Pastoral Associates are always available to help.

We also have an active Caring Committee and here is an opportunity for us to volunteer to be the person who cares, who takes food, provides time to be present and listen.

The listening presence of a friend can be a healing balm. Take the time. Make a call to one who is struggling. The Sunday morning greetings, "How are you? Just fine" are the speedy, surface greetings which do not address our deeper selves. Listen to the music of the voice as well as the words and ask again, "How are you, really?" with "I care about you" in your voice. We can all be healers.

And then we must feed the hungry.

Food is necessary for everyone's survival. It is a sad fact that there are people in our world, even in our own wealthy country who live with hunger and some even starving. Most of us have enough to eat and enough to share, which we do.

And there is another kind of nourishment which we need as well as food. Whereas you might have enough to eat, you may not have enough heart nourishment. Have you had a hug today? I've read that it takes 2 hugs a day for survival, 4 hugs for maintenance, and 6 hugs a day for growth. Hugs transfers energy and gives an emotional boost. A hug says "I care." It's important to know our inner needs and know what nourishes us. It may be time to be alone, and a good book to read, a visit with a friend, long walks in nature, or a warm soaking bath. Pay attention and make time for these things.

And then he suggests for us to release the prisoner.

This is a more difficult one. We know there are many people incarcerated which we cannot release. We ourselves are not in institutions of confinement but again we need to check in with our inner selves. We may be living in prisons of our own making, identifying with roles to which we have adapted, which define us and perhaps confine us. If you ask me who I am, my usual response would be, I am a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a grandmother, great-grandmother, A Marriage and Family Counselor, on and on. These are roles which I have taken on and my ego loves this structure because it gives me a sense of identity and makes me feel secure. But we are much more and the truth is that at any moment these identities can be threatened or taken away and we're left helpless, angry and lost. It's clear that the things the world gives us can never give us lasting security or freedom.

However, I know that there is in me, in all of us, another reality. Some call it our indwelling Presence, or Immortal Spirit. Call it my heart or my Higher Self or Divine Consciousness. It always loves, gives total acceptance, and shines with peace and joy. I believe that when we are able to lift our thinking out of our own little ego desires and live in this loving realm of the heart, then we will be free and have real security.

It gets harder: Mr. Thurman now suggests that we rebuild the nations.

Now, I shake my head with this one. What do I know about rebuilding nations? Not much. I know that the world is not as just, not as loving, not as whole as we would like it or as we know it could be. Our own country struggles with this issue. But I can at least hold the nations of this world in my consciousness. Our world has become a global village and we live on a small planet. We must learn that we're one humanity and one earth in order to survive. Right now the nations of the world seem to be in terrible turmoil and it can be overwhelming to think what I might do to help. I am just one small person (well, kind of small, and definitely old) and not much of an activist anymore. What could I do? I guess being informed is one thing. My friend Natasha is a bit younger than I am and is a real activist. She is very aware of how our taxes pay more for war than for feeding the hungry, how our clothes come from sweatshops often using children. She has a passion for peace and regularly is working for this quality to be the reality in our world beginning with ourselves. She recently shared a quote which she keeps on her fridge. (She doesn't remember who wrote it): "When will the dark night end? When we look into our neighbor's face and see it as our own." This is difficult for us to do, but it is a spiritual truth that what we do to the other one, we do to ourselves. Mission Peak's Inclusiveness and Diversity Committee is helping us with this challenge and would be a good place to start.

And next we are to bring peace among brothers.

Interesting that he said "brothers". Personally, when I was young I was rarely at peace with my five brothers. I resented that they were my mother's favorites; I envied the attention she gave them. I now realize just how difficult it is really be at peace with another person. My ego's job is not peace. It has worked hard to set up its own sense of self and maintain its own boundaries. It has helped me create my separate sense of myself, defining who I am. It makes judgments and blames others, justifies feelings of envy and jealousy. When I look honestly inside myself, I will find these unwanted feelings based on fear. My ego says maybe someday I can be at peace, if I am strong and in a really good place and you are not too great a threat to me. That's an iffy place at best.

But if I can move from my ego up into my heart, it's a different story. This is where I am able to experience my humility and vulnerability as a human being and realize that we are all working hard to navigate this earthly existence. I can drop my fear and competition and my heart can open with love and compassion for my fellow travelers.

Lama Sudya Das said if we were able to go inside right now and awaken our sleeping Buddha (and likewise if we could awaken our inner Christ), what would we find? Tibetan Buddhism says that at the heart of you, I and every single person there is an inner radiance that reflects our essential nature. They refer to this as inner light, innate luminosity. It is always utterly positive and is endowed with unconditional compassion and love. That's what we would find inside. Jesus said it like this. "You are the Light of the World" and we sing of this every Sunday, with the children. When we get in touch with this light it will guide us to be the compassionate pilgrims of peace which the world so sorely needs.

And last, we are to make music in the heart.

Our hearts need to sing. I don't mean to sing for anyone else to hear, but to sing for ourselves to know how we are really feeling and have a way to express it. Singing is an important part of our Sunday Service. We all sing and sometimes people sing specially for us, as Doug did for us this morning. Our choir, the Peak Performers, enliven our hearts when they sing in our service. Let's keep singing.

So that's a quick look at the work Mr. Thurman has suggested for us. It is a calling of compassion to serve from open caring hearts. It is indeed an enormous calling, for the need is great.

Where do we start? How do we decide where we should serve, what we can do?

I want to share another message from Howard Thurman, perhaps the most important one. He said:

"Don't ask what the world needs.
Ask what makes you come alive and go do it.
Because what the world needs are people who have come alive."

What is it that makes you come alive? What stirs your blood and quickens your heart? What is calling you? Rev. Jeremy will be introducing a program in the New Year which will help us answer this very question and help us get started. Watch for it and be prepared.

I believe we are blessed to be a part of this community. I leave you with the Metta prayer of lovingkindness: May you be at peace, may your heart remain open, may you awaken to the light of your own true being, may you be healed and may you be a source of healing to all others.

Amen, So Be It.


Keep your compassionate heart open to those in need, watch your impulse for liveliness, and keep singing.

Back to Top