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Friends' Christmas Experiences
In preparation for writing an article on Friends (Quakers) and Christmas in 1998, I posted on several Quaker e-mail lists, news groups and Web discussion lists a request that Friends share their experiences with celebrating, or not celebrating Christmas. I received much more than I could fit on one Web page, and divided the responses into 4 parts. If you haven't read it yet, you might want to go back to Part 1 now. But Friends keep reflecting on the topic, so now I have added this page for additional reflections. Friends are invited to email me with their own experiences and reflections to add to this page. -Bill Samuel, Webservant, QuakerInfo.com
David Hadley Finke, Columbia, Missouri, USA:
[This was a message given in worship at Columbia Friends Meeting on 12/21/03, as best as he could recall it.]
It was probably in March or April that Mary and Joseph journeyed to his hometown to register for the census that was part of Caesar Augustus's scheme "that all the world should be taxed." That's the most reasonable assumption as to the time of year that travel would be easiest for those going long distances. So why is it that we have this season to observe and celebrate the son that was born to them?
The best answer that I understand is based on a physical phenomenon that will occur at 2:08 a.m. tonight. By the peculiarity of the tilt of Earth's axis with respect to the plane of our orbit around the sun, we reach a turning point tonight in that annual cycle. Up to now, each morning the sun has risen later and later, further and further south, and similarly has set earlier, at a point further down the horizon. Today is the shortest day of daylight, and tonight will be the longest night. But starting at what we call "the winter solstice," light will begin increasing, imperceptibly, but steadily. Light will return! Darkness will not increase forever, and will not prevail over light. Death will not have the final word.
Every culture in the northern hemisphere has some way of noting this phenomenon, with some kind of festival of light and celebration. The early Christian church used this physical occasion, based on this celestial occurrence, to stress their spiritual understanding of the meaning of Jesus' birth into the world. They overlaid their Advent observance to the prevailing secular festivities that preceded the Christian faith.
Unfortunately today, we encounter all kinds of mixed messages enfolded into Christmastide. We still have the remnants of the old Roman Saturnalia, a week of rowdy partying in which the usual social and moral norms were suspended. We have the end of the merchandizing and fiscal year, in which all stops are pulled out to beef up the bottom-line. We have the greed of getting tangled in with both the generosity and the compulsion of giving.
But these are no reason to neglect what is our understanding of Light entering the world, associated with the birth of the one who became Carpenter and Master and Healer and Teacher, and some would say Lord and Savior.
Even as we sang earlier in the hour, the hymns of this season can remind us that Jesus is affirmed as "Son of God, Love's Pure Light." "No more let sin and sorrow grow nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make his blessings known far as the curse is found." "Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: 'God is not dead nor doth he sleep; The wrong shall fail, the right prevail with peace on earth, good will to men.'"
This is the Light that was embodied in the life of Jesus, and that can be in our life as well. When we welcome this Light, we find that it brings remarkable changes. It increases our understanding of Truth: it "enlightens" us. But it also may challenge us even as it strengthens us. The Light can heal and reconcile, and it draws us into the Beloved Community. It guides our pathway and shows us our way forward, as individuals and as a people.
Regardless of how you may view the events of 2 millenia ago, let us affirm that the Light of God is alive, working, and among us. Let us give thanks and celebrate and walk in that Light.
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