Carol Service – 20/12/20

Opening Music – ‘The Shepherds Farewell’

Words of Welcome and Chalice Lighting: Hello everybody and welcome to Kensington Unitarians’ annual carol service, this year held here on Zoom. We’ve gathered together, as people have through the years, to celebrate Christmas, in traditional ways, with singing and silence, listening to words both ancient and contemporary – words that tell of the birth of the Christ Child, of the strength of innocence and the power of the vulnerable. We’re also here I think to reclaim the mythic and symbolic elements in Christmas traditions – that call out at this dark time of year for light and warmth and good cheer, for gathering in good company with others. And in this year of 2020 that has held so many challenges for us individually and collectively as a world community – though we choose to keep our distances in order to keep one another safe, yet still we need the togetherness I think that comes from shared rituals and customs.

Yet ours is not an off the peg faith, we’re each of us building and re-building our faith, losing and finding our faith, working to make sense of life, searching for ways to best use the gifts we bring to the world – and we are helped in these tasks of the spirit by gathering with one another, celebrating life, nurturing connection, acknowledging life’s difficulties as well as its pleasures, affirming that we are part of something greater than ourselves. Our chalice flame is lit this morning, symbol of a worldwide Unitarian and Unitarian Universalist community, proclaiming a message of acceptance, justice and love. Let’s take a moment to breathe in the warmth of connection a simple flame may bring us. May its light help re-kindle our own sense of an inner light that we in turn pass on to others, especially when they are feeling cold and weary.

First Carol: ‘O Come all ye Faithful’
Let’s sing our first carol, o come all ye faithful, a carol that would have been sung in Latin when it was first written – adeste fideles. As always here in our services on Zoom join in, in a way that suits you best. We’ll all be muted so it’s safe to sing at the top of your voice, following the words that’ll appear on our screen. Or sit back and enjoy listening to the carol recorded by our congregation in a carol service a few years ago.

O come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem.
Come and behold him, born this happy morning:
O come, let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.

See how the shepherds, Summoned to his cradle,
Leaving their flocks draw nigh with lowly fear;
We too will thither bend our joyful footsteps:
O come, let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.

Lo, star-led chieftains, Wise men, Christ adoring,
Offer him incense, gold and myrrh;
We to the Christ-child bring our hearts’ oblations:
O come, let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels, Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above:
Glory to God in the highest:
O come, let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come let us adore him, Christ, the Lord.

Candles of Joy and Concern
Whenever we gather together, whether it’s in person at our Essex Church building in Kensington or as we are now as an online congregation, we share a simple ritual of candles of joy and concern, an opportunity to light a candle and share something that is in our heart with this wider community. So we’ve got a good few minutes now, for anyone who would like to do so, to light a candle, real or imaginary, and say a few words about what it represents. When you’re ready to speak, unmute your microphone so we can all hear you, and then re-mute yourself once you’ve finished. If you are going to speak, let’s stay aware of how long we’re speaking for, so that there’s time for others to say something too. And don’t worry too much if two people end up speaking at the same time – these things happen on Zoom – please do persevere! At this point it’d be nice, if you can, to switch to gallery view so we can all see everybody.

And I will light this additional candle to bring you news of some of our congregation members who wanted to be remembered to us all ……… and can this flame also represent the joys and sadnesses each of us may be carrying in our hearts, especially perhaps at this time of year and in the circumstances we find ourselves in as we stay at home, many of us unable to be with friends and loved ones. May each of us find a place of peace within our hearts this Christmas time, however restricted may be the way we spend these days. And now I’m going to hand over to Harold who has our traditional reading from Luke’s Gospel telling of the birth of Jesus.

Reading: from Luke’s Gospel – read by Harold Lorenzelli
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea,
unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.
And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.
And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes,
and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven,
the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem,
and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

A Winter Solstice Prayer
Thank you Harold for reading these comfortingly familiar words for us. I invite us all now to take the imagery of the Nativity, of the birth of Jesus, into a time of reflection and prayer. Let’s get ourselves comfortable so that we can turn our attention inwards and treasure these matters in our hearts as Mary did.
Our earth is turning and we, in these northern lands, are close now to the winter solstice, the shortest days and longest nights. These are indeed times to go within. As we gather to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, may our prayers be for all children of the world that they might be raised and educated in loving and open minded ways.
May we face the shame of living in a world where children hunger and thirst.

Let us pray for the leaders of our world who hold such responsibilities in their hands. May the spirit of love and justice that holds us all inspire our leaders, and indeed each of us, to think with greater vision of a world community existing more sustainably together on this planet earth, our shared space, our shared resource.
As people in some parts of Britain face even greater restrictions in response to the Covid pandemic, let us pray for our health workers who are placed again under increased pressure as the virus once again spreads, and let’s hold in our hearts all who are troubled and confused, uncertain how best to respond to the changed guidelines we are living within. These are not easy times. Let us care for another as we maintain our physical distance, aware of our remarkable to transcend physical distance and experience such sweet closeness across the separations.(silence)
Help us great spirit to loosen the cords of habits of thinking from time to time so that we might be refreshed in our perceptions and opened once more to new possibilities in life.
May we sing old songs as if for the first time, recognise old companions as new and wondrous beings in whose presence we are both delighted and curious.
Let us take nothing for granted, that even something as the rising of the sun on winter solstice dawn could encourage us to kneel in awe and wonder and gratitude for this miracle that it is to be alive.
In quiet stillness now let us each reflect for a short while – saying our own prayers, thinking our own thoughts ………….
For silence, for companionship, for singing, for the turning of the year – for all this and more let us give thanks. And let us say if we so wish Amen, so may it be.

Second carol – ‘Good King Wenceslas’
And so let’s sing together again now our second carol Good King Wenceslas – where we traditionally suggest you choose a part to sing – do you feel like the sturdy monarch today – eagerly setting out on a mission of mercy or more like the anxious page, who probably wish they’d stayed in bed. We’ll all be muted and the words will soon appear on our screens.

Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night
Though the frost was cruel
When a poor man came in sight
Gath’ring winter fuel.

“Hither, page, and stand by me
If thou know’st it, telling
Yonder peasant, who is he?
Where and what his dwelling?”
“Sire, he lives a good league hence
Underneath the mountain
Right against the forest fence
By Saint Agnes’ fountain.”

“Bring me flesh and bring me wine
Bring me pine logs hither
Thou and I will see him dine
When we bear him thither.”
Page and monarch forth they went
Forth they went together
Through the rude wind’s wild lament
And the bitter weather.

“Sire, the night is darker now
And the wind blows stronger
Fails my heart, I know not how,
I can go no longer.”
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shalt find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

In his master’s steps he trod
Where the snow lay dinted
Heat was in the very sod
Which the Saint had printed.
Therefore, loving folk, be sure
Wealth or rank possessing
You who now will bless the poor
Shall yourselves find blessing.

Reading: ‘The Carols we Sing’ by Edward A Frost
This reading – is called ‘the carols we sing’, it’s by a Unitarian Universalist minister Edward A Frost – a pleasingly appropriate wintry surname. He’s writing about traditions, Christmas traditions like carol singing, and how they hold memories for us, down through the years – of all the other times and places we have sung those familiar words and tunes: memories of the people we have spent those times with and the people we ourselves were long ago – children eager or shy perhaps, times happy or sad, loved ones long departed. I wonder what memories carol singing holds for you. Here are Edward Frost’s words:

The carols we sing
Are echoes of the years of our lives,
Christmas visitors bringing with them
Memories of other scenes,
Of other times,
Of other people,
Of us, ourselves, in other guises,

We have sung these same songs
In the childhood which abides in us still,
We have sung them in young love
In the naïve dream
Of an eternity of Christmases.

We have sung these songs to drown our hurt
And to amplify joy.
If, in this season,
We find that we are of many shifting moods
It can only be because we have lived
A life of many moods
Each recreated in the play of Christmas.

We may need to sit quietly and stare into the distance.
We cannot always sing,
And the spirit needs freedom to wander,
To re-visit old regrets
And to remember joy,
Returning, then, to remind us
From whence we came,
Singing old songs in new places.

We sing together in the harmony
of our humanness,
Remembering, with each singing of the songs.

Meditation: ‘What Really Matters To Us’
And let’s take those memories of carols sung in other times of our lives into a meditative part of our service now where I’ll say a few words to guide us into silence and the silence will come to an end with a video made specially for us by Lucy Elston and Laurence Panter singing and playing O Holy Night.

Hope you can find a comfy way to be still for these few minutes, maybe have a bit of a stretch, straighten your back or lift your shoulders and let them roll back and down, take a lovely breath and as you breathe out enjoy that softening of your face muscles, your cheeks and foreheads, maybe close your eyes if that feels right for you. Sense your connectedness with the earth that carries us all, beneath our feet, our bodies anchored to our planetary home by the forces of gravity.

And as we move towards the winter solstice and Christmas, this can be a time for us to consider what really matters to us – a place way beyond the busy-ness of our minds, and our everyday lives. In midwinter the earth rests awhile and invites us rest with it. Stillness can settle around us for a while. And in that stillness perhaps each of us can connect with that which matters most as we join in the fellowship of silence together now.

Silence then video – Lucy and Laurence – O Holy Night

Reading: What Are You Here For? by Quinn G. Caldwell – read by Pat Gregory & John Humphreys
If you came to this place expecting a tame story, you came to the wrong place.
If you came for a story that does not threaten you, you came for a different story than the one we tell.
If you came to hear of the coming of a God who only showed up so that you could have a nice day with your loved ones, then you came for a God whom we do not worship here.
For even a regular baby is not a tame thing. And goodness that cannot threaten complacency and evil is not much good at all, and a God who would choose to give up power and invincibility to become an infant for you, certainly didn’t do it just so you could have dinner.
If you came because you think that unwed teenage mothers are some of the strongest people in the world.
If you came because you think that the kind of people who work at three jobs, doing stuff you’d rather not do, might attract an angel’s attention before you, snoring comfortably in your bed, would.
If you came because you think there are wise men and women to be found among undocumented travellers from far lands and that they might be able to show you God.
If you came to hear a story of tyrants trembling while heaven comes to peasants.
If you came because you believe that God loves the animals as much as the people and so made them the first witnesses to the saving of the world.
If you came for a story of reversals that might end up reversing you.
If you came for a tale of adventure and bravery, where strong and gentle people win, and the powerful and violent go down to dust, where the rich lose their money but find their lives and the poor are raised up like kings.
If you came to be reminded that God loves you too much to leave you unchanged.
If you came to follow the light even if it blinds you.
If you came for salvation and not safety, then: ah, my friends, you are in the right place.
Source: ‘All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas’

Third Carol – ‘I Heard the Bells’
Thank you Pat and John. That reading really touches me – it’s underlining the depth of the Christmas message isn’t it and that depth means it’s a message with relevance today, just as in years gone by. Tyrants still pursue the innocent, families still travel the world to find safety, children are born in less than ideal circumstances and love and support appear in all sorts of unexpected shapes and sizes. In the best of years there is rightly a solemnity to Christmas, a seriousness that underpins its more superficial pleasures. And we are not in the best of years. Humanity is facing so many difficulties, so many of us are experiencing doubt and despair – a loss of faith in our human capacity to right wrongs. The Christmas narrative is a narrative of reversals and it brings us the potential for renewed hope of light shining in the darkness.
So our closing carol is a quiet one, with words from a poem by 19c American writer Henry Wadsworth Longfellow – composed in a time of deep sadness in response to the American Civil War. And yet it ends with the uplifting lines:
‘The wrong shall fail,
The right prevail –
Goodwill to all, and peace on earth!’ I think most of us would sign up for that. Let’s join in singing this message of hope for our world.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet, the words repeat,
“Goodwill to all, and peace on earth!”

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song,
“Goodwill to all, and peace on earth!”

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime:
“Goodwill to all, and peace on earth!”

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said.
“For hate is strong and mocks the song:
Goodwill to all, and peace on earth!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, and doth not sleep!
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail –
Goodwill to all, and peace on earth!”

Announcements: My thanks go to Jane and Jeannene for the essential and skilled background work of hosting today and to our readers, Harold, John and Pat, and to our musicians Benjie del Rosario who will be playing our closing music today and Lucy Elston and Laurence Panter who made that video for us whilst almost at the same time moving home. It’s good to spend time with you here today. We’ll be back again here on Zoom on Christmas Eve at 5pm, all welcome and you might like to have a candle with you, and again next Sunday’s gathering will be at 10am here on Zoom, when we’ll be putting the year 2020 gently to bed. Everyone is welcome to join these gatherings, feel free to share the link with your trusted friends. Our West London GreenSpirit group is hosting a Winter Solstice celebration on Monday 21st December at 3pm. You can book for that by contacting Sarah. Our weekly coffee morning at 10.30 will have a Christmas special on Tuesday. Christmas hats, jumpers etc welcome. And don’t forget we’re holding a full moon retreat on the afternoon of Weds 30th December if you’d like to have a structured time of reflection. We have a virtual coffee time to chat today after the service in small groups if you’d like to join in – and we’d like to take a photo of us all as soon as the music ends, so do stick around if you don’t mind being in a photo. We’re going to have some closing words in a moment followed by Benjie’s video of The Christmas Song, played beautifully for us. Those of you with us on Zoom now might like to select gallery view on your screen so that we can all see each other for the closing words and enjoy a feeling of connection in community.

Closing Blessing:
And so I extinguish our chalice flame but not the warmth of this community, and may the light of this candle shine out and illuminate all the places where our simple gifts might make a difference in the life of another.
Let each of us bring our particular gift to the world this year, the gift of being ourselves and of accepting others as they truly are, the gift of going beyond the superficial to deeper truths, the gift of our open and loving hearts: for these surely are the gifts that can bring warmth, whatever the weather, and whatever we face in life.
Amen, go well everyone and blessed be.

Closing music – video of Benjie and The Christmas Song

Rev. Sarah Tinker

20th December 2020