Finding Light in the Darkness by Lauren Strauss
December 21, 2014
Ruby came into the world on Wednesday.
Before she arrived, her parents knew that at 25 weeks and weighing only 350 grams, Wednesday would be her first and last day on earth.
Her aunt Jennifer, who lives in Virginia, posted in my online knitting group to tell us about Ruby, and to ask a favor of the three members who live in Wisconsin.
“Kristin, Marie, or Judith,” she wrote, “could I ask one of you a HUGE favor? My niece will be born on Wednesday and will not live for more than a few hours. I desperately want to make her a hat, but it would cost $100 to get it there on time. Is there any chance one of you could knit a hat for her and get it to my mom in Brookfield?”
Huge favor or not… Kristin, who lives closest to Brookfield, began knitting immediately, and Judith began a second hat just in case Kristin’s fell through.
I yearn for light at this time of year. It is easy to understand why our forebears lit bonfires and lanterns and candles, and built great devices for measuring the shortest and longest days. What if the light never comes back? What if winter stretches on, never ending, cold and dark and dreary? I turn on lights in these days, and I light candles, and I play holiday music and light a fire in my fireplace because otherwise the sun and I may never rise again.
But in the last few years, even as I acknowledge my craving for light, I note that I am willing to embrace darkness. The winter solstice is a time of introspection—we turn inward toward the shadowy places of our souls and, if we’re ready, we embrace what we find there. Not long ago I feared what I would find. I feared that those shadows would press me down, and even when the days grew longer, I would not be able to ascend.
But what I find when I look deep within, now—is light. Sometimes it’s a tiny, stubborn light barely piercing the darkness—but it is eternal and indomitable. If I had given in to my fear of the darkness within me, this light would have remained hidden. It takes courage to go within and find it, but more and more frequently I’m able to make that journey inward and embrace what I find there—dark and light, both parts of my spirit I cannot, and would not, give up.
The Light in us is Love. When Kristin drove from Milwaukee to Brookfield on Tuesday to bring a tiny hat and scones and a card for the family of a friend she has never met in person— her love was a tenacious light blazing in the darkness. Her light shone for Jennifer, and for Ruby, and for Ruby’s grieving parents. Each of us has that radiance shining within us; if we can be brave enough, we discover our light is strong enough to carry us through all kinds of adversity. When our inner lights seem dim, as they must to Ruby’s mom and dad right now, the love of those around us can be a beacon of hope.
Turn inward, in winter when the earth’s path takes us far from the sun and shortens our days. Turn inward and embrace your darkness, and discover your light. Let your light shine upon the world, like a prophetic star, or one day’s oil burning for eight nights, or a bonfire lit on the longest night. Blessed Be.
Call To Worship—
Amy Bowden Freedman
Once more, the earth has turned toward the light of the sun.
As we are bathed in the light of a new day,
So may we greet the dawning of fresh possibility.
Once more, we awaken from our slumber.
As our bodies rise
To meet the challenges and pleasures of living,
So may our hearts and minds open with promise.
Once more, we gather for worship.
As we join our voices in word and song,
So may this assembly bring forth wholeness.
Come, let us worship together.
Reading—Rachel Jones – “For So the Children Come”—Sophia Lyon Fahs
For so the children come
And so they have been coming.
Always in the same way they come—
Born of the seed of man and woman.
No angels herald their beginnings
No prophets predict their future courses
No wise men see a star to show
where to find the babe that will save humankind
Yet each night a child is born is a holy night.
Fathers and mothers—sitting beside their children’s cribs—
feel glory in the sight of a new life beginning.
They ask, “Where and how will this new life end?
Or will it ever end?”
Each night a child is born is a holy night—
A time for singing,
A time for wondering,
A time for worshipping.
Lauren: From the beginning of time, human beings have celebrated the Winter Solstice as a promise that sun and warmth will return to the world. All over the world, in every religious tradition, we have lit festive lights to ward off the dark and usher in the light. We lit our Chalice, symbol of our Unitarian Universalist tradition, and throughout our service we will light other lights to honor many of the holidays celebrated at this time of our year.
Tracy: I invite ____________ to place a Yule log on our Solstice hearth.
Each year, at this time of shorter days, in many lands of the Northern hemisphere, people gather on the longest and darkest night to light special fires of remembrance. The ancients lit their fires, and many people before us have burned Yule logs to chase away the darkness and mark the birth of the sun.
Lauren: Next, ______________ will light the Christmas tree.
The tradition of bringing a fir tree into the home or town square goes back to the 1600s, though covering it with lights is a newer tradition. May our tree’s colorful lights bring joy to all, as we move past the shortest day and the sun begins to return.
Candle Lighting: Advent & Hanukkah—
Tracy: Next, ________________ will light the Advent wreath.
(Light 1st Candle): Spirit of the east, spirit of air, spirit of hope: Be with us as the sun rises, in times of beginning, times of planting. Inspire us with the fresh breath of courage as we go forth into new adventures.
(Light 2nd Candle): Spirit of the south, spirit of fire, spirit of peace: Warm us with strength and energy for the work that awaits us.
(Light 3rd Candle—PINK one): Spirit of the West, spirit of Water, spirit of Love: be with us when the sun sets that we may enjoy a rich harvest.
(Light 4th Candle): Spirit of the north, spirit of earth, spirit of joy: Be with us in darkness. Fill us with hope, peace, and love, that we may come to realize the joy of this season, not only at Christmas, but always.
Lauren: _________________ will recite the Hanukkah blessing and light the Menorah.
The blessing, translated into English, means:
Blessed are You, oh Mystery of Life, Ruler of the Universe, Who has blessed us, and invites us to kindle the lights of Hanukkah.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotov v’tzivanu l’hadlik ner shel Hanukkah.
Homily—Finding Light in the Darkness—Lauren
Candles: Diwali & Kwanzaa—
Lauren: Next, we invite ______________ to light an oil lamp in honor of Diwali.
As the primary festival celebrated by Hindus all over the world, Diwali honors the timeless tale of good’s triumph over evil. Whether rejoicing in the return of Rama, the killing of Narakasura, or the banishment of Alaksmi, Hindus light oil lamps and ignite crackers (fireworks) to celebrate both the reminder that good will prevail and to welcome the blessings of the goddess of fortune for the coming year. During Diwali, celebrants wear new clothes and share sweets and snacks with family members and friends.
Tracy: _______________ will light the Kinara for Kwanzaa.
Each candle symbolizes one of the Seven Principles of Kwanzaa. During Kwanzaa, which begins on December 26, one candle is lit on each of seven nights.
(Black Candle): Umoja, or Unity
(Red Candles): Nia, which means “Purpose.”
Kuumba, which means “Creativity.”
Imani, which means “Faith.”
(Green Candles): Kujichagulia, which means “Self-Determination.”
Ujima, which means “Collective work and responsibility”
Ujamaa, which means “Cooperative economics.”
Meditation – Elizabeth M. Strong
Please join with me in the spirit of meditation and prayer.
We are in the midst of the season of celebration.
Of the birth of new hope,
Of the festival of lights,
Of the triumph of freedom.
The darkness of the year is lifting and the time of light grows longer. We have gathered with an anticipation of hope for peace on earth and in our homes.
We have gathered in this season of celebrations seeking comfort to soften the pain and the losses our lives have suffered in the fast retreating year.
We have gathered to worship joyfully within this season of celebrations with the tenderness and love of family and friends around us.
Let us be embraced by the strength and power of this sacred space that we each bring as we create this beloved community.
Let joy and sorrow join in the fullness of our living.
Let the power and strength we embody join us together as we move through the seasons of celebration into a new year with a new vision of hope for peace on earth.
The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper
And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us – listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Lauren Strauss is the Director of Religious Education at First Parish of Watertown. She is credentialed at the Credentialed level in Religious Education by the UUA. She has served this congregation since 2011.