03.2.3 Christmas Eve Message : We Forgive You, St. Nicholas!

Nicholas of Myra punching Bishop Arius at the Council of Nicaea

Nicholas of Myra punching Bishop Arius at the Council of Nicaea

The birth of Jesus Christ may be the “reason for the season,” but for millions of children the man of the moment is Santa Claus.

While it’s widely known that the Santa Claus of Christmas is derived from St. Nicholas, few know much about the original Saint Nick beyond the fact that he did not actually live at the North Pole, own flying reindeer, or employ a workshop full of elves.

Nicholas was a political ally of Athanasius of Alexandria during the Church intrigues of the 4th Century that led to Trinitarianism. And, like Athanasius, he is rumored to have come into power at an absurdly young age through dubious means.

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Harvest Thursday – Happy Thanksgiving!

first_thanksgivingThanksgiving is often recognized as an inter-cultural holiday, celebrating the cooperation of European Pilgrims and Native Americans, but it is also an interfaith holiday. After all the Wampanoag were not Christian.

For American Reform Unitarians* the interfaith nature of Thanksgiving actually reinforces its Christian importance, for we see Christianity not as a religion defined against others, but as an idiom, a way of speaking about Truth that can be translated into other idioms.

True Christianity was, from its inception, a religion that sees the good in members of other religions.

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Welcome back to the Calendar – All Hallows Season and Twelve Days of Ghosts

AllHallows-AVenezianoCan Christians celebrate Halloween?

When Jesus was casting out demons, he was accused by the Pharisees of being in league with the Devil. (See the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 12.) The purpose of Halloween is to cast out fears and evils by turning them to play. Those who accuse the holiday of being in league with the Devil are playing the Pharisee role.

Unitarian Reform instead chooses to align itself with Christ.

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Garden Thursday : Thy Will Be Done

GethsemaneDuring the Sermon on the Mount, while expounding on anger, adultery, oaths, and retaliation, Jesus repeatedly emphasized the importance of motivation over action. It is not the act of adultery that makes us adulterers, but entertaining the desire. It is not the voicing of our hatred that is the sin, but the hatred itself.

The moral character behind our decisions, that inner seed of the actions which are regulated by Law, was at the core of Jesus’ teachings.

For this reason, Reform Unitarianism honors Garden Thursday — the day on which Jesus accepted the necessity of the painful events to follow — as the highest of Holy Days.

It is at Gethsemane that the teachings of Jesus and the story of Jesus come together.  During the Prayer in the Garden, by praying “Thy will be done” in the face of imminent suffering, Jesus made the commitment of moral character he had preached about in the Sermon on the Mount.

It was this decision in the Garden of Gethsemane that signifies the taking of the fruit of the Tree of Life, countering and remedying the imbalance created by the taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden.  As that Knowledge brought responsibility to the first Adam, requiring punitive Law to regulate human actions, the moral teaching of the “Second Adam” (as Jesus has been called) transcends and fulfills the Law with the virtue of character.

Law, married to Wisdom, becomes whole. The Lion lies down with the Lamb.  Knowledge and Life together bring us back into Paradise.

The arrest of Jesus, his trial, and the crucifixion that followed were, like the material events consequent of any decision, secondary to the spiritual and moral event that took place inside the soul of Jesus when he said to God: “Nevertheless, Thy will be done.”

This fulfillment of Christ’s own teachings was the true pinnacle of his ministry.


[A version of this homily has been published on earlier Garden Thursdays]

[The stained glass above is at First Reformed United Church of Christ of Burlingon, North Carolina.]


03.1.2 Advent and Annunciation

Scripture and homily in brief for Advent/Annunciation Thursday, the Ultimate Thursday of the 12 Days of Gold of the Christmas Season.

Luke 1:26-38

26 In the sixth month [of Elizabeth’s pregnancy with John] the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth,
27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’
29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.
31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.
32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’
34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’
35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.
36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren.
37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’
38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

Homily in Brief

Although the calendar date for Advent/Annunciation is 1 December, the first of the 12 Days of Gold, the Reform officially celebrates the beginning of the Christmas Season today on the Ultimate Thursday of the dozenal.

This differs significantly from other Christian traditions, which celebrate Advent four Sundays before Christmas, and celebrate the Annunciation (the day on which Mary was told by the Angel Gabriel that she would conceive Jesus) on 25 March, a materialist nine months of gestation prior to Christmas.

For the Reform, the biological placement of the Annunciation is not as important as the inspirational role it plays as part of the Nativity story. By observing this herald of the Nativity together with Advent, AUR brings the entire narrative of the birth of Jesus together in one ritual season, setting aside December as a month of preparing for new beginnings: the beginning of the life of Christ, the beginning of the era of the Tree of Life, and the beginning of the new year when December finally turns over to January.



03.1.1 Feast of Eligius

Scripture and homily in brief for the Feast of Eligius, the first of the 12 Days of Gold of the Christmas Season.

Revelation 1:12-13

12 I turned around to see the voice that was speaking to me. And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands,
13 and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest.

A Sermon of St. Eligius

“It is not enough, my beloved friends, to have adopted the Christian name, if you do not bring forth Christian works; for to be called a Christian only profits him who constantly keeps Christ’s doctrines in his heart, and manifests them in his life…”


The Reform begins the Christmas Season with the Feast of Eligius, patron of goldsmiths, on December 1st, the first of the 12 Days of Gold.  (This is also the calendar date for Advent/Annunciation, which will be celebrated on the Ultimate Thursday of the dozenal.)

Gold is an important symbol for this opening dozenal of the Christmas Season, as we celebrate Mary who was the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, also known as Wisdom and El Shaddai in the ancient faith of Israel, the feminine presence of God.  As the First Temple’s lampstand/tree, the ancient symbol of the Holy Spirit of God, was made of gold so do we honor the Lady Miriam, Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ, with decorations of gold.

CRÈCHE PROGRESSION: Now is the time for unlit Christmas decorations, and for placing Mary and the Angel in the crèche!


03.0.0 Thursday Worship : St. Andrews Day

Scripture and homily in brief for the Thursday before St. Andrew’s Day, the eve of the Advent/Christmas Season.

Gospel of John 1:35-41

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.
36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.
38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi [which means “Teacher”], where are you staying?”
39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.
41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Anointed.”
42 And he brought him to Jesus.


Homily in Brief

Andrew is not the most well-known Apostle. However, he was the first disciple of Jesus Christ.

It is fitting, then, that the Feast of St. Andrew also be the Eve of Advent, in anticipation of the first idiomatically Christian season of the AUR calendar, Christmas!

Andrew was also the brother of Simon who later became St. Peter, the Rock of the Church. In fact, it was Andrew who introduced Simon to Jesus.  During the holiday season, as we wish good will toward all, St. Andrew’s Day reminds us to begin close to home, with our siblings.

On St. Andrew’s Day, let’s look forward to the Season. (And, do something nice for your siblings!)


02.1.3 Harvest Thursday

Scripture and homily in brief for HARVEST THURSDAY, the first (liturgically) of the Four Great Thursdays of AUR, and the 12th of the 12 Days of Thanksgiving.

Psalm 95:1-3

1 Let us go sing to YHWH; let us shout out to the Rock of our salvation!
2 Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; and with song let’s shout out!
3 For YHWH is a great god, and great king above all gods.

Homily in Brief

first_thanksgivingThanksgiving is often recognized as an inter-cultural holiday, celebrating the cooperation of European Pilgrims and Native Americans, but it is also an interfaith holiday. After all the Wampanoag were not Christian.

For American Reform Unitarians the interfaith nature of Thanksgiving actually reinforces its Christian importance, for we see Christianity not as a religion defined against others, but as an idiom of Truth that can be translated to other idioms.

True Christianity has from its inception been a religion that sees the good in members of other religions.

Jesus praised the faith of the pagan centurion over that of his fellow Jews, and used a member of the hated Samaritan sect (considered heretics at the time) as a symbol of goodness in explicit contrast to leaders of his own faith community. When ministering to the Greeks, the Apostle Paul even went so far as to claim that the “Unknown God” long worshiped in Hellenistic religion was in fact the very same God of Abraham and Jesus.

Some might dismiss Paul’s assertion as a marketing technique, and perhaps so. However, the willingness to seek Christian truth in other religions validates Christianity as a religion about reality rather than a religion merely about itself.

There is, in every religious community, a moral tension between loyalism and realism. Realism sees the religion as an idiomatic description of reality, therefore open to other forms of description.   Loyalism reduces that description to a mere catechetical shibboleth, a set of talking points used like passwords to prove one’s membership in the club. Under the loyalist vision, a religion becomes an entrenched camp isolated (by its own members) from the rest of the universe.

A religion truly about the Creator cannot be an enclave in Creation. The truth of God does not need to be spread across God’s own work by a tiny minority of creatures; God’s truth is evident throughout the universe, to be seen by those with eyes to see and heard by those with ears to hear.

And, necessarily, using the words of their own languages and imagery of their own cultures.

The idiomatic approach of Reform Unitarianism takes realism to its full measure by recognizing that some of the underlying ideas of other religions must be valid (and correspond to Christian concepts) if the God we worship is indeed the God of all Creation, and not merely an imagined god of ethnic or sectarian narcissism.

For us, the Thanksgiving story represents two groups of God’s children, speaking in different idioms, coming together for a precious moment of peace and communion. The words and labels each used to discuss the ultimate nature of reality and its moral implications may have differed, but if there is such an Ultimate Truth then it must be the same Ultimate Truth for all, despite the difference in languages used to describe it.

The politicized, sectarian, God-denying, and autolatrous view is that the Native Americans were un-Christian heathens. The truly Christian, universal, Creator-affirming, moral view is that although the compassion the Wampanoag showed the Pilgrims may not have been “Christian” charity, it was certainly Christian charity.

Have a wonderful feast day, and give thanks for all of the blessings in your life!


02.1.2 Remembrance Thursday

Scripture and homily in brief for Remembrance Thursday, the fifth of the 12 Days of Thanksgiving.

Proverbs 27:12

12 The prudent sees misfortune, and hides himself; fools keep going, and pay the price.

Homily in Brief

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, as we remember that good things come to our lives through meetings, it is also vital to recognize the risk involved in such meetings.

Human beings need to mix and mingle — not only to make life worth living, but also to grow and adapt to our changing environment. Still, this exchange is not without the potential for danger.  The sad fate of the Wampanoag after the first Thanksgiving demonstrates this tragically.

The meeting of worlds can end in epidemic, misunderstanding, hostility, and even warfare. The history of America, and indeed the entire world, is written in the twin pens of strife and cooperation.

For Reform Unitarians, it is important to recognize the harsh realities of life before celebrating the wondrous potentials; this is why we observe a solemn Remembrance Thursday one week before the Feast of Thanksgiving on Harvest Thursday.


02.1.1 Diversity Sunday

Scripture and homily in brief for Diversity Sunday, the first of the 12 days of Thanksgiving.

2012 note: This year, due to the seasonal overlap, Diversity Sunday also falls on the 11th Day of Piety, but the Piety dozenal has been liturgically completed by All Corners’ Thursday.

As the theme of All Corners and Diversity Sunday are very similar, the web service today will be particularly brief.

Hebrews 13:2

2 Do not forget to entertain/welcome strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

Homily in Brief

Although not a normal Thursday observation, Diversity Sunday is vital because it introduces the celebration of Thanksgiving, as we remember that good things come to our lives through meetings.

These may be meetings of different opinions, as in the Continental Congress where America’s Founders met. It may seem unthinkable to us today, but in the 1700s residents of various colonies did not think of themselves as countrymen.  To be a Virginian or a New Yorker in Pennsylvania was to be a stranger in a foreign land, even though all were British colonies.  The Continental Congress was a gathering of strangers who sought out (to paraphrase Lincoln) the better angels of each other’s natures to mutual benefit.

These meetings may also be meetings of different families, as at a wedding.  Or different religions, as in the Christmas story of three Magi traveling to Judea, the story of the Good Samaritan, and even the story of Thanksgiving that we celebrate this season. They can also be meetings of different business models and scientific theories.

It is a categorical necessity: all new things, and therefore all new good things, come to our lives through meetings with others.  It is only through the practical application of the virtue of Hope—keeping our hearts open to others as potential messengers (Greek ἄγγελος or “angel”) of the Good—that we can increase the good things in our lives.  Only by remaining open to a diversity of experiences can we truly be open to the gifts in Creation.

So, it is important to value diversity not simply for the sake of conflict-aversion, a “politically correct” way of not hurting anyone’s feelings.  It is important to value diversity in full and rational recognition of the great value that difference plays in growth: individual, societal, economic, scientific, moral, etc.

And, for Reform Unitarians, this day’s message is particularly meaningful as it falls on Sunday, the Holy Day for Christians of many other denominations.  Think about your neighbors today, wherever they might be.  Love them as yourselves, entertain their ideas, and welcome them as potential emissaries of good things.