A very Different Christmas?

By any standards the year 2020 has been exceptional. In normal times the St.Patrick’s Day parade kicks off the National social calendar. This year mid March initiated the first lockdown. The Parade was just the first major event to be cancelled; like dominos almost every festival and celebration met the same fate.
          Who would have believed that at Christmas 2020 Irish pubs would have been closed for almost ten months? Not only are the pubs closed so too were churches. Weddings and baptisms are postponed and attendance at funerals is limited to just a handful of mourners.
          As the winter drew closer Covid was spreading again and we entered a second lockdown. Covid fatigue was now very real and during that lockdown the conversation was dominated by talk of Christmas. Surely Christmas – the most cherished celebration in Irish life - could not be stolen from us?
          Covid and lockdown has made us focus only on the things that are really important. People - the people we love; family, friends and community. We don’t really miss shopping, we manage without pubs and restaurants some people may even be relieved that the Christmas party is cancelled - but at this the darkest time of the year we know to the marrow of our bones that we need to feel connected with people we love.
          This need for community at the darkest times is primal. Five thousand years ago to mark the darkest days and to celebrate the return of light our ancestors built Newgrange. The size of the tumulus and the complexity of its construction is testament to how important the Winter Solstice was for them. On the darkest day of the year, when the sun is at its weakest; the sunlight travels the length of the passageway and fills the chamber with golden light.
          In contrast at the Summer solstice we need a bonfire to increase light. But on the darkest days the faintest light transforms everything. In these dark days of pandemic small things upset us equally small kindnesses can transform our Christmas celebration.
          The Christian story of the birth of Jesus is crafted to compliment the ancient celebration of light and we have adopted elements from Victorian times. This Christmas is different; of necessity it is stripped of the some of the unnecessary elements that have grown around Christmas. Stripped of inessentials we are left with wonder, hopeful expectation and joy.
          Wonder, hope and joy. We are brought to awe and wonder at the complexity of the Universe. The knowledge that light will always triumph over darkness brings hope and joy.
          Since the 21st June the tilt of the earths axes has revolved to give us the illusion that we are moving away from the sun. Each day the hours of daylight have decreased; as the sun appears to sink further and further in the sky. Darkness has increased, the days have become colder. During last week, 19th-22nd December. the laws of gravity ensured that earth has not escaped into the darkness of outer space. Our earth has now begun its journey back to warmer brighter days. We know with certainty that spring and summer are right now travelling towards us.
          The movement of the earth creates these dark cold days we must live through; it also brings us the wonder of life reborn in spring. It brings us the delight of long summer evenings when light gives us visible until 11.00 p.m. It brings us the glorious colours of autumn and it brings us the miracle of light reborn in December. Covid has not dimmed this miracle.
          Telescopes and space travel allow us to see some of the countless galaxies there are; we have not yet found a single star that has life yet our Earth is filled with the teeming life. The miracle of life calls us to wonder and give gratitude, it brings us hope for life ever renewed and joy that we are alive to witness these miracles.
          In addition to all this wonder; we have inherited the story of the birth of Jesus. Like all worthwhile stories this didn’t happened exactly as it is recorded in the Bible. However the story is one hundred per cent true.
          We know the essential points of the story. A child was born to simple parents who lived at a time of political upheaval. The child’s birth was welcomed by the parents and some humble shepherds. A few wealthy, wise individuals recognised the child’s potential and acted to protect his life.
          One politician, who held dubious political authority was willing to kill the child to hold on to political power. For a while the family lived as refugees in a foreign land. Difficult childhood experiences can make a hard hearted adult. The child grew up to become wise beyond expectation.
          He lived a life of integrity and went around “doing good”. His mantra to his followers was to “love one another.” He brought a fresh perspective to the practice of his religion; he taught that true religion is not about keeping a series of rules; religion is about love. He was a pacifist who probably became caught in politics and his life ended in apparent failure.
          This story didn’t only happen two thousand years ago; it repeats itself over and over. Democracy is based the concept of “birthrights”; it maintains the equality of every human being as a birthright. Equality is the first principle of the Unitarian Universalists.
          Last night many children were born. Yet with the first breath inequality became a reality for some. Children were born in the some of the hundreds of refugee camps throughout the world. These children were born into poverty that may well last their entire lives. Their existence depends on handouts of food from the World Health Programme. These children are homeless and stateless they may never hold a passport with an attractive logo on the front cover. Many children were born to live under unjust political systems. They may never see justice prevail. In our country children are being born into homeless. Every child born last night will be challenged by how we adults are destroying the planet. Just maybe this year’s paired back Christmas will give the planet a small respite.
          And yet the story of Jesus gives us hope. His message of love didn’t die, it survived and spread. During the past two thousand years at times the message has become twisted and warped. But there is something about Christmas that uncovers the simplicity of the original message. It is simple love one another – all the rest is unnecessary commentary.
          Celebrating Christmas is to experience hope in action. Christmas is dedicated to spreading goodwill and generosity. It is the only time of the year that we feel sympathy for the homeless; we really care that everyone should have a celebratory meal today. It matters to us that some people may be lonely. We want every child to experience the magic of receiving just the right gift from Father Christmas. At Christmas with few exceptions we try to follow the example of Jesus.
          So long live Christmas may we celebrate it well. May we experience its peace and joy particularly during this pandemic. We can take heart that light is returning, spring will come and Covid will be gone. So today let’s put expectations aside and enjoy this day as it is.

Rev.Bridget Spain
Minister Dublin Unitarian Church                     25th December 2020