We are living in the midst of the Christian season of Advent, four weeks of candle-lighting, welcome, hope, and expectation before Christmas. And we are looking toward the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, lighting a growing glow of light in the teeth of darkness.
I want to share some new approaches to those festivals. One for Advent has been shaped by Rev. Nancy Taylor, the Senior Minister of Old South Church In Boston (the Church that birthed the Boston Tea Party of resistance to the British Empire and its unjust taxes). The other comes from The Shalom Center for the candles of Hanukkah and Shabbat and for any festival when candles are kindled –- among them, Advent.
These liturgies recognize the rhythms of natural and political change. They recognize that in the Northern Hemisphere we are living in a season of Earth’s darkness when underground, in the dark, seeds of new life, new light, are preparing to burst forth. And we are living in a season of our country’s and our planet’s moral darkness, when those in power are cruelly wounding children, our elders, the poor, working families, women, Muslims, Blacks, immigrants, refugees, the sick, even Mother Earth herself – all to make possible the transfer of enormous wealth to those who are already Hyper-Wealthy.
By passing a Deformed tax bill, bare majorities in both houses of Congress have responded to the demands of their Big Donors, not to the two-thirds of the American public who oppose this bill.
This is the politics that our sacred traditions know as Pharaoh and Caesar. And our traditions not only side with the Resistance to Pharaoh and Caesar, they grow directly out of the Resistance.
Who were this Resistance? The runaway slaves who left slavery in the Tight and Narrow Land while Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Reed Sea. The band of Jews who on the eve of Passover that recalled the fall of Pharaoh followed Jesus in the protest march of Palm Sunday against the Roman Empire, and stood with him when the Empire tortured him and killed him. The Rabbis who despite the Roman edicts against teaching or doing Torah persisted, and who even in their own deaths inspired a resilient Jewish community to live in exile and weave a new kind of community that yearned for but did not need a Land.
So our sacred communities have learned to become fireflies of light in the darkness just before the dawn. Flickering, glimmering, growing, glowing. Both in liturgy and in activism are these lights lifted up.
Resistance becomes Transformation. New forms of sacred Community emerge from challenging these Empires.
Even now, at the very last moment when House and Senate have not yet worked out an agreed version of the Tax Deform, efforts are under way today and tomorrow for nonviolent direct action to challenge those Members of Congress who might possibly change their minds. Clergyfolk, including myself and my life=partner Rabbi Phyllis Berman, will join in that challenge.
And meanwhile, we offer you two approaches to kindling liturgies of light in a season of dark:
Between the Fires:
A Prayer for lighting Candles of Commitment
We are the generation that stands
between the fires:
Behind us the flame and smoke
that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;
From the burning forests of the Amazon,
From the hottest years of human history
that bring upon us
Melted ice fields, Flooded cities, Scorching droughts.
Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,
The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.
"Here! The day is coming
That will flame like a furnace, “
Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,
The Breath of Life --
when all the arrogant, all evil-doers,
root and branch,
will like straw be burnt to ashes.
Yet for all who revere My Interbreathing Name,
a sun of justice will arise
with healing in its wings, its rays, its winds. . .
“Here! Before the coming
of the great and awesome day
of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,
I will send you the Prophet Elijah
to turn the hearts of parents to their children
and the hearts of children to their parents,
lest I come and smite the Earth with utter destruction."
(Malachi 3: 20-21, 23-24.)
Here! we ourselves are coming
Before the great and terrible day
of smiting Earth —
For we ourselves shall turn the hearts
Of parents to their children
And the hearts of children to their parents
So that this day of smiting
Does not fall upon us.
It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze
But the light in which we see each other fully.
All of us different, All of us bearing
We light these fires to see more clearly
That the Earth and all who live as part of it
Are not for burning.
We light these fires to see more clearly
The rainbow in our many-colored faces.
Blessed is the ONE within the many.
Blessed are the many who make ONE.
[Optional: Baruch attah [Adonai] [Yahhh] elohenu [melekh] [ruakh] ha’olam asher kidshanu b’mitzvot[av], vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel brit Eliyahu. Blessed is the Breath of Life Whu unifies all forces of creation, teaching us to become holy by connecting, breathing, with each other and as one practice of connection calls us to kindle the candles of Elijah’s covenant.]
[Brachot for Hanukkah.]
[Light candles of commitment]
ADVENT: ALL EARTH IS WAITING
Rev. Nancy Taylorhas developed a liturgy for Advent that focuses on Earth. She writes --
We will use this for the four weeks of Advent at Old South Church in Boston (December 3-24). The opening Carol sandwiches the Call to Worship and Advent Candle Lighting. (To hear the carol, click to <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baAS2Tfad2s >
The clergy will preach and teach into our Advent theme, taken from the Carol’s title, ALL EARTH IS WAITING. In the Carol (written by Spanish priest, Alberto Taule, 1932-2007), the Earth and the creatures of the Earth participate in the joyful celebration and welcome of the Christ child to the Earth.
In our preaching and teaching we will focus on the ways the Earth and the creatures of the Earth are fully part of God’s delight and revelation; that they participate in, support, and relish God’s gift of the special child…that the Earth, and all its fullness thereof, are every bit a part of God’s redeeming work, and, indeed, kith and kin to humankind.
As a consequence, the Earth merits urgent attention, that it need be protected and defended by the very people who profess to love God and who delight in receiving the gift of Emmanuel: God with us, God with the Earth. That the Earth, no less than the (biblical) widow or orphan, the prisoner or the lame, is in need of rescue, shelter, healing, nourishment, protection and befriending.
Much of our teaching will be toward the UNLEARNING of the worst of Western Christianity which has separated the realm of Nature from the realm of History … assigning the realm of History as God’s realm (higher, more sublime than the realm of Nature, which is more or less disposable). We will challenge and attempt to unteach this.