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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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.]


03.1.1 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!


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.


Google Books Ngram Reveals Unitarian History

This graphic from Google’s culturomic tool, the Ngram Viewer, plots fairly well the decline of Unitarianism after the rise of Transcendentalism, which spawned the Free Religion movement that seized control of Unitarian churches in the late 19th Century, purging genuine Unitarian theology from the church in favor of political liberalism.



Resolution Day

New Year’s Day is a day for resolutions, often taking the form of freeing ourselves from slavery to addictions, obsessions, and other bad habits. This yearly renewal — through promises to be stronger, healthier, and wiser — celebrates one of the cornerstones of Reform Unitarianism: commitment of character.

AUR strives not to promote false salvation, moral justification, and consolation on the cheap, whether it is the sort of “bow to dogma and your soul will be spared” comfort of many conservative churches or the “I’m okay, you’re okay, nothing we believe really matters” comfort of many liberal churches.

Spiritual peace and strength are not won by reciting a confession or catechism as if they were magic spells, or by impulsively tossing your life over to God like a hot potato, abdicating all responsibility for past wrong-doing.

Nor is spiritual peace achieved through conflict-averse relativism or laissez-faire creedlessness, what Unitarian theologian James Luther Adams described unflatteringly as “religion you can’t flunk.”

Peace, strength, and freedom are achieved only through a resolute struggle, by committing one’s character to moral growth and accepting a higher Good beyond one’s desires and instincts. New Year’s Day, what we call Resolution Day, provides a unique opportunity to stamp these commitments into our memory at the turning of the calendar.

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American Unitarian Reform’s Virgen de Guadalupe

The AUR liturgical year opens with a series of holidays emphasizing the multi-cultural, multi-faith scope of American Reform Unitarian Christianity.

All Corners Day on November 12 honors “Pious Outsiders” from other nations and faiths. The Thanksgiving season is famously devoted to peaceful cooperation between different ethnic and religious communities. And, these holidays culminate on January 6 with Epiphany — the epitome of Christian syncretism — which commemorates the adoration of infant Jesus by the Magi, who were foreigners to Judea and members of a non-Abrahamic religion.

December 12, which is the last of the 12 Days of Gold commemorating Mary’s motherhood, is also in the tradition of inter-faith community. On this day, in conjunction with Roman Catholics we honor the Our Lady of Guadalupe, who is believed by many scholars to be an exaptation of Aztec devotion to Tonantzin, meaning “Our Mother,” a title bestowed upon various divine female figures, similar to the Hindu term Devi.

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