We marvel at the miracle of the babe-in-the-manger story, and marvel we must, because it touches something deep within us; it stirs the spirit and wakes the soul.
It’s beyond rational thought; beyond, but not apart from rational thought. It touches something tender and sweet, without that tenderness, what are we; without that tenderness, who are we; why are we?
It’s that tenderness in us that marvels at the magic of this season–the miracle of the babe in the manger. So we’re here to take another look at the scene in the stable and get a close-up of the babe in the manger so we can see our own reflection.
We’ve seen a lot of little babies here in this sanctuary this year, and lots of parents and grandparents who have stood here holding them. We focus on each individual child and bless them, saying, ‘May you find aid in time of trouble, comfort in time of sorrow, and guidance into the ways of truth.’
We’ve struggled together in this sanctuary this year, looking for guidance into the ways of truth; trying to discern the truth about important issues in the worldissues about war and peace; issues about economic and social justice; issues about the separation of church and state. We’ve struggled to find ‘guidance into the ways of truth.’ Truth-seeking requires ongoing struggle.
We’ve struggled to find deeper truths about ourselves and one another, so that we can understand what makes us tick and so we can understand what makes our children tick, and what makes our spouses and parents and friends tick; what’s that anger about? What’s the depression about? What’s that distancing about? What can I say? What can I do to be of help?
It’s not easy moving up from that manger, moving toward mature mindfulness. It’s not easy being a person, and isn’t that what the manger story is aboutthe beginning that each of us had, arriving humbly into whatever manger we were birthed?
So we’ve struggled together here from week to week to find ‘guidance into the ways of truth.’
And we’ve come together here to comfort one another in times of sorrow. We’ve listened to lots of candle-lighters who ask for comfort to them in their time of sorrow. We’ve sometimes felt inadequate to the task of bringing comfort, but maybe something in the ancient story can help to assure us that we each have something to bringif not gold, frankincense or myrrh, simply our presence…to make the journey across the huge expanse from our own kingdom, our own little world, with our own set of problems, to be present to another, to be present in that special way that says, simply but profoundly, ‘I am here and I care.’
Those of us who are actively involved in this religious community have taken another long journey together this year, traveling between the extremes of birth and death, hoping to provide ‘aid in time of trouble…comfort in time of sorrow.’ We’ve opened our door and hearts to our visitors, many of whom have found a spiritual home here this year.
While many of us fill this sanctuary from week to week, others of us have filled the other rooms, in this building and in our meeting house, and in homes where meetings have taken place with children and adults. Indeed, we’ve filled every nook and cranny with children of all ages trying to provide ‘guidance into the ways of truth.’
We’ve tried to help our children learn to be responsible and happy adults; we’ve tried to enhance their sense of self-respect; we’ve tried to help them learn to respect one another, and to respect the vast variety of people who populate this fragile globe.
We’ve tried to help them learn about the varied religions of the world; we’ve tried to help them to nurture their own spirituality, so they can build inner resources for their own times of trouble and sorrow.
This is our sacred task. Isn’t that what the story of the babe in a manger is about, after all? Isn’t it about us? Isn’t it about the people in the other placesthe other kingdomspeople who need to learn how to walk together, to work together, to respect one another, and live in peace. Isn’t that the most sacred task of all?
Look again at the story of the babe in the manger and see how it touches the common core of our own humanity, and allow it to ignite the spark which warms the tendernessthe compassionthat makes us human.
The Christmas story is our story because it’s the human story. It’s the story of a birth in humble surroundings. Every birth is humble and humbling, from the birth of a baby on a bed of straw to the birth of a child of kings and queens. Who is not humbled by the sight of a birth?
So we gather in this special place to celebrate birth, to celebrate Life, to take another look as the kaleidoscope moves through another rotation, and things look a little different than they did a year ago tonight.
We gather in this special place, moved by the music, to surround ourselves in candle light and to feel the warmth of one another’s presence.
Like the shepherds and the wise men in the story, we’ve taken the long journey away from our little kingdoms, the address on the driver’s licensethat little kingdom we occupy…we’ve taken the journey so we can be here together tonight to nourish that special something in us, to move from the manger to mindfulness.
It’s a powerful story, this story of the birth in a manger and the journey toward wholeness, toward maturity, toward mindfulness. It marks another cycle, the turning of another year in our own lives. So it moves us into that place of memory of seasons past.
When we move into that place there’s often a sense of some kind of sadness, which may take us by surprise.
If we don’t resist, if we don’t fight it off, it can be turned into a sweet sadness with cleansing tears that turn grief into gladnessnot the gleeful gladness, but the depth of appreciation we feel for the years we’ve lived and the people who have occupied the special spaces in our souls and spirits. That’s a sweet sadness we can celebrate through the tears.
We spend the best portion of our lives trying to be present for others, trying to respond to others, trying to love them in a mature way, without forcing ourselves on them.
We also need to spend some of that energy on ourselves, moving into mindfulness…the deep awareness where we have to accept the questions that go with it. There’s no guarantee of coming out of that depth with some new, reassuring answers, but part of our faith system requires us to live with the questions, to cherish the questions, to love the questions and to accept the limits of our knowing.
A religious faith that requires all the answers in final form runs the risk of twisting faith into fanaticism.
The spiritual aspect of life is fueled by the deepest questions, questions that can’t be answered ‘once and for all.’ They need to be asked again and again, with every rotation of the earth, marking our own individual evolution, our progress toward wisdom, so that we may leave our old kingdoms, following a star, in search of the Divine.
Religious answers are ice cold, frozen in time. Questions are warm and green; questions are organic, they are alive, they are the circulatory system of our spirituality, pumping the blood through our days and sustaining us through the long nights that weave into years.
Religious questions are the secret of sanity; final religious answers are seductive Sirens that lure us onto the destructive rocks to sink the ship and interrupt the journey.
The metaphor of the ship on its voyage is appropriate in this sanctuary, for obvious architectural reasons. We’re here to take the voyage together.
Allow me to close with on a personal note: I’v been moving with this vessel for nineteen years and God willing I’ll be part of the crew for many more, but one never knows how long the voyage will be. So I want to thank those of you who have been on board and to encourage those who have recently gotten on board.
I want to thank you for your support. This is not a luxury liner, but we have increased the size of the crew to enhance the quality of the journey.
Thank you for your involvement, the volunteer work without which we’d be stuck on the first sandbar; thanks for working with our children; thanks for working on the canvass, for working on the boutique, for taking food to folks who are homebound…thank you for your participation in the programs we’ve put together; thank you for your ideas about new programs.
You are appreciated, and it is out of that deep sense of appreciation that we who are your paid crew offer our sincere wishes for your holidays and the year ahead. Enjoy!