Hope in Human Form

Published by FirstUUAdmin on

by Rev Michelle Scott-Huffman

A fresh look at the Christmas story in conversation with the traditions that surrounded Jesus of Nazareth at his birth.

Our Opening words today are Winter Solstice, by Rebecca Parker

for a moment
the typewriters will stop clicking,
the wheels stop rolling
the computers desist from computing,
and a hush will fall over the city.
For an instant, in the stillness,
the chiming of the celestial spheres will be heard
as earth hangs poised
in the crystalline darkness, and then

Let there be a season
when holiness is heard, and
the splendor of living is revealed.
Stunned to stillness by beauty
we remember who we are and why we are here.
There are inexplicable mysteries.
We are not alone.
In the universe there moves a Wild One
whose gestures alter earth’s axis
toward love.
In the immense darkness
everything spins with joy.

The cosmos enfolds us.
We are caught in a web of stars,
cradled in a swaying embrace,
rocked by the holy night,
babes of the universe.
Let this be the time
we wake to life,
like spring wakes, in the moment
of winter solstice.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel
Words: Latin c. 9th century, translated composite based on John Mason Neale
Music: Adapted by Thomas Helmore, Harmony by John Weaver
Used with Permission
Performed by Eva Riebold and Emily McKinney

We are always grateful for Eva being so willing to contribute her time and talents on our behalf. I was happy when Eva suggested that she and I collaborate on a recording of this one. It’s always been one of my favorite Christmas carols, but I struggled somewhat with keeping it once I became a UU because the particular religious tradition source doesn’t resonate with me as much anymore. I was thrilled to find the alternate lyrics in our hymnal that are inclusive of all theologies or lack of them and keep the beautiful Latin plainchant melody. This one has a long, nerdy history, which you can read here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O_Come,_O_Come,_Emmanuel

My all-time favorite recording of this song is here: https://youtu.be/YMe0Fi8OqE8

Eli, Eli
Words: Hannah Szenes
Music: David Zehavi
Public Domain Work
Arranged and Performed by Persephone Hamburg

Persephone was willing to share her beautiful voice with us once again. She writes:

“I was thinking I could sing a song I learned in my own religious school that is sung in Hebrew. It’s a beautiful song and here is the (more gender inclusive and conducive to poetry in English) translation:

Oh God, my God
I pray that these things never end:
The sand and the sea

The rush of the water
The crash of the heavens

The prayer of the heart.

(Eli, Eli,
Shelo yigamer le’olam:
Hachol vehayam,

Rishrush shel hamayim,
Berak hashamayim,

Tefilat ha’adam.)

I would love to sing it for everyone!”

(We’d love for Persephone to sing it for everyone, too!) Here’s a link to a very brief background on the song: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Walk_to_Caesarea

Find a Stillness
Words: Carl. G. Seaburg
Music: Transylvanian hymn tune
Used with Permission
Performed by the First UU Virtual Choir, Accompanied by Eva Riebold

This year has been anything but “still” for so many of us, and yet it’s been infused with a certain quality of restless confinement, of stuckness, of stagnation, too. This hymn hooks me right in my core every single time I hear it and slows me back down to a place where I can be “still” in the life-giving, restorative way, not “still” in the haven’t-changed-out-of-my-pajamas-or-gone-anywhere-but-my-fridge-but-my-mind-is-still-racing way.

When it’s safe to bring the choir all under one roof again, I think we’ll probably spend some time working out a strong acapella version of this to keep stored in our back pocket to pull out any time we need it. I hope this music can help you find your own place of internal, restful stillness, too, no matter what concerns, agitations, or obligations you find yourself contending with in this very unusual holiday season.

Dark of Winter
Words and Music: Shelley Jackson Denham
Used with Permission
Performed by Rev. Dr. Sophia Betancourt, Rev. Cathy Rion Star, and Rev. Christe Lunsford

Even though my online class for music director certification has ended, I have been hosting my own Zoom meeting at the same time each week since then to hold a space for my other music ministry colleagues in the MLCP to come together and debrief on the stresses of doing this work virtually and to minister to each other and lift one another up. Last week, the meeting was just me and one other colleague who was in my class. We were both carrying some heavy things. She asked me to provide the kind of pastoral care listening and extemporaneous UU prayer we had practiced in the class and I was honored to do that for her. Then, she turned and shared a gorgeous virtual choir video with me that she had made for her congregation and let me say, reader, it fed my soul profoundly to receive that from someone else. We both left that meeting lifted up and better able to show up and care for our congregations.

All this to say, when Rev. Michelle forwarded me the link to this recording, I had been recently reminded of the importance and power of both giving and receiving in our spiritual gifts and how powerful it can be to allow the tender offerings of another to wash over you. This hymn is gorgeous, and there is something magical (at least for me) about receiving this act of care from three UU ministers in a time when so many parts of our souls just…ache. I hope this gentle presentation of a beautiful hymn for Stillness also soothes your spirit (and your neurotransmitters, for the more literal among us).

PS: Rev. Kimberly Debus offers more great reflection (and the lyrics) here: https://farfringe.com/stlt55-dark-of-winter/

Our closing words are “Share Your Glorious Light with the World” by James Morrison.

Within each of our hearts there is a most glorious light.
Go forth, and let its spark help you understand what troubles both you and others;
Go forth, and let its light of reason be a guide in your decisions;
Go forth, and bring its ray of hope to those in need of help in both body and spirit, that they may find healing;
Go forth, and fan the flames of passion to help heal our world;
Go forth, and spread the warm glow of love, pushing back the darkness of the world;
Go forth, and share your glorious light with the world.