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A message by Cathy Seggel, Director of Religious Education, delivered at the First Unitarian Church in Providence, RI, December 23, 2014

Christmas Eve Meditation (5:00p)

Here we are. It is Christmas Eve. We have come together in this beautiful sanctuary. To pause, To find meaning. To feel some magic, To share hope and love.

We have told the story of a child, who came to symbolize love and a powerful vision of a just world. We are singing; to share our joy and to feel belief in the promise of safety and peace for all children, everywhere.

Soon, we will light candles, casting a warm glow on our community, signaling a need for the sun's return. The shortest day of the year has passed. Soon, we will find our ways home.

As Unitarian Universalist families, of one person, or many, some of us appreciate this time to celebrate what is important about Christmas and beyond. For some of us, it's a hard stretch, with varying amounts of confusion, regret, worry or pain. Some of us feel lonely or stressed.

I have grown to relate to the core message of Christmas. As a shy, extrovert, I soak in messages from friends and colleagues who share wisdom energy. It helps keep my head and heart balanced. Maybe some of my found treasure, quoted heavily, will resonate with you:

Rev. John Nichols' who served here as an Interim Minister, taught me a version of Christmas. It is about our trusting that miracles or surprises, come out of ordinary, every-day events, helping us live our lives, getting through all the journeys we must make. John thinks we put ourselves into the story. I like his examples:

Snow & Pine trees are in the Christmas story, but the man, Jesus, was born in sunny Bethlehem, a Middle Eastern country where it doesn't snow. Do we give the story snow and cold so we can imagine warmth and love in the stable? Could it be that the clean, new fallen snow, a White Christmas, seems to promise a fresh start for all of us- just as the birth of a child suggests new things in our lives?

Friendly animals fill the manger in the Christmas story we hear. The scripture doesn't actually say anything about animals. People back then thought of animals as food. Maybe the story grew so we could remember to care about all creatures in our interconnected web of life.

The Christmas story that we tell has the parents, Joseph & Mary, looking for a place to stay and the Innkeeper saying, "No Room." Again, there is no innkeeper in the original Bible text. We created the innkeeper because we are too often the innkeepers of our own lives. We sometimes push new people and new experiences away and say, "No Room."

There is also travel and gifts, kind of like a baby shower. Some of us travel at this time of year. We also understand that life is a journey, growing up is a trip, with ups and downs and need for rest. And, in our church, travelers might come to our Inn, our Meeting House, for services, seeking welcome. We travel with hope and we bring gifts.

John's message is that we craft elements of the old Christmas story to make sense in our current lives. We want to be successful, safe and warm. We hope that we will be welcomed and loved. We dream of angels to protect us and say, "You are not alone. Don't be afraid."

Here is the message. Life is a precious gift. Along with that gift comes a mysterious strength. We all can find the power, if we are open to it, the ability to use the gift of life well. Being thankful, caring, compassionate and fair are its goals. We never know who or what might inspire us next. Someone or something might surprise us, make us hopeful.

My friend, Meg Barnhouse, sparkles my hope. She envisions the baby in the manger as a Soul Story, if not an historical story. To her, Soul stories are as likely to be true as stories from history, perhaps a different sort of true, to be approached differently. After doing historical research and biblical study, her inclination is to interact with the story as she would with a dream. She proposes we hold the image of the Divine as a baby.

When God is a baby, no one has to be afraid. No one has to tremble before God's wrath. No one has to wonder what they have done wrong, how they have disappointed God. A baby God isn't mad at you-in fact, he needs you to coo over him, hold him close, smell her head, curl her tiny fingers around your pinkie, protect him, and visit her with presents. No wonder Christmas is a well-loved holiday: We get to coo over the baby God, and feel the aching openness of a heart at its very beginning.

A new baby love has all the possibilities in the world; it carries all the hopes and dreams. Later on, as it grows and matures, it becomes more real, and if you are skilled and lucky, it grows richer and deeper. As life starts you care for it and nurture it. You are careful with it. You delight in it. A baby is full of possibility.

What if Christmas is a story about the soul entering the world of the body? The light of spirit and wisdom, the Divine seed planted in a human being? Some of the founders of our free religion believed that the seed of God, a tiny sliver of the light, was in each of us. Meg wishes and I wish for you at this time of the rebirth of the light, that the light be reborn in you,

Tonight, "We have made it." It's here. We can recycle shopping lists and slow down to revel in the smallest traditions, including the one you create, for the first time, tonight. Maybe it's watching an oldie but goodie holiday movie or staying up late to prepare delicious treats.

Tomorrow, we will repeat an adventure we tried last year: Waking up at 4am, driving to be with our 2 grand-babies on the Jersey shore, toting a cooler of Norm's delicious oat waffle batter and sausages for breakfast.

It feels right, to be here, together, in the nourishing dark. To honor a season of giving, miracles and a baby God of love. To embrace timeless themes of peace and joy in our 2014 lives. To keep each other company as we recommit to being a people of helping hands, open minds and most of all, loving hearts.

Whatever your version of celebration, please enjoy some hours of warmth, wonder, play and renewal.

Amen.