The Rev. Stan Sears, Minister
Auburn Unitarian Universalist Society
This article ran in the December 24, 2011 edition of The Auburn Citizen
The highlight of most Christmas Eve services tonight will come as the lit
candles fill our churches. As most of us know, the candles we light are not
"birthday candles." They are candles of hope, lit at the darkest time of the
year in the northern hemisphere. This is also why we sing "Silent Night" or "Joy
to the World" rather than "Happy Birthday." Scholars will never agree on an
exact date for his birth, and there is no reason they need to. The editors who
made the decisions about what to include and what to exclude from the Bible gave
us two different birth stories, in Matthew and Luke. They also gave us two
different Creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2. I imagine one of the editors
speaking up and saying "Let’s protect them from the literalists who don’t want
to think for themselves. By giving them two different stories, they’ll have
something to talk about. Maybe they’ll be wise enough to realize that religion
should not spend so much time thinking about how things start. It’s what we do
with it that really matters." And what is it that "really matters?"
This is precisely the reason we have so many different sects and
interpretations of Christianity in the world today. You can go to any church to
hear its version. For me, it is the message of hope, even in the most desperate
and tragic of times. What sustains us when we feel worthless, oppressed, or just
plain unable to make it through another hour, let alone another week or year?
The theme of hope is especially pertinent to me this year, due to the death last
week of Vaclav Havel, the renowned writer and former president of both
Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic.
Havel was born into a wealthy family, whose land was seized from them when
Russia overran most of Eastern Europe after World War Two. Prohibited from
attending college, he was drafted into the army, where he started to write
plays. After serving in the army, his writing expanded beyond plays to include
essays focusing on human rights. Eventually, he was jailed as a subversive. His
reputation grew during this time. When the Communists were removed from power by
the "Velvet revolution," there were calls of "Havel to the castle," and he was
elected president of Czechoslovakia. Havel was the last president of
Czechoslovakia, and the first president of the Czech Republic, after the Slovak
Union chose to separate.
Havel, like Jesus, believed in the importance of doing good as an end in
itself, regardless of one’s chances for success. As he once wrote: "Hope
is a state of the mind, not of the world. Hope, in this deep and powerful sense,
is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in
enterprises that are obviously heading for success, but rather an ability to
work for something because it is good."
As a Jew, living under Roman rule, I have to believe that Jesus would look at
our society today and ask why racism is still so prevalent; why gays, lesbians,
and transgendered people are treated as less than fully human; and why women are
still treated as "junior citizens" who are not fully trusted to exercise
sovereignty over their own bodies. How else can we describe the blatant sexism
of the plethora of laws restricting reproductive freedom that have swept through
some of our nation’s statehouses over the past year? In addition, we have
endured an expansion of revelations of child abuse within both organized
religion and wider society. Too often, the perpetrators have been those who have
spent years keeping people focused on the so-called wrongs of reproductive
rights, while they have maintained a strict code of silence as children have
been abused. There is nothing "pro-life" about laws that would strip funding
from Planned Parenthood, collective bargaining rights from working people; or,
hold unemployment benefits hostage to oil pipelines.
The past year has not been a good one for those of us who believe in a
progressive society. I believe that the various "Occupy" movements were a
symptom of the growing cynicism that people have; and, it will be exacerbated as
we hear more talk of gerrymandered districts to preserve entrenched politicians
and legislation making it more difficult for people to vote.
This is precisely the type of situation that Havel says we must confront with
hope. So, on Christmas Eve, as I light my candle, I will imagine Jesus welcoming
Havel to what I call "a higher castle" and then looking at our world and saying
"May they continue to hope, and may they continue working for what is good…for
what is truly good."