Candlelit Christmas Eve – 24/12/21

Opening Music: ‘The Christmas Song’ oerformed by by Trevor Alexander and Peter Crockford

Opening Words: ‘A Spark of Light in the Universe’ by Sydney Wilde-Nugent (adapted)

We are here this Christmas Eve to be together –
to feel the warmth of human connection –
a reassurance against the cold of this winter night.
We come to fill our eyes with the light of candles,
to fill our ears with the sounds of music,
to fill our hearts with the wonder of new hope –
hope for the love of one another,
hope for peace on earth and good will to all.

Give us this night that inner peace which comes
from the knowledge that we are not alone
but that we are here, together,
sharing common hopes, common dreams, common resolves.
Give us this night the joy and wonder which fill our souls with the knowledge
that we are a part of the interweaving patterns of the human and divine –
Each of us a spark of light in the Universe;
together, a brilliance which calls forth the promise of Bethlehem.

Together, may we find the courage to realise that promise.

Opening Words of Welcome:

These words by Sydney Wilde-Nugent welcome all who have gathered here on Zoom for our special candlelit Christmas Eve service. Welcome to regular members of the congregation, to friends old and new, and visitors who are with us for the first time – also those who might be listening to our podcast, or watching on YouTube, at some time in the future. For those who don’t know me, my name is Jane Blackall, and I’m Ministry Coordinator with Kensington Unitarians.

This evening’s service is our special Candlelit Christmas Eve – a contemplative service lasting a bit less than an hour – there’ll be readings from Unitarian sources reflecting on the Christmas story and the imagery of ‘The Light of the World’ – and familiar carols to sing along with at home, some of which are taken from Christmas Eve services in the church in years gone by, and some of which are brand new recordings from a ‘virtual choir’ we’ve assembled in recent weeks. And right at the heart of this service is a time of silent meditation by candlelight so, if you can, please find a candle and something to light it with, and have it ready for later on in tonight’s service.

Chalice Lighting: ‘The Divine Light, Waiting to be Reborn’ by Simon John Barlow

Before we go any further though, I’ll light our chalice, as we always do whenever we gather. This simple ritual connects us with Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists the world over, and reminds us of the proudly progressive religious tradition of which this gathering is part.

I light the chalice, symbol of our worldwide and historic Unitarian faith,
in celebration of the Divine Light waiting to be reborn
in every atom of our bodies,
in every thought in our minds,
in the very essence of every soul –
the light of God waiting for humanity to reach out to it
so that peace and joy and love may reign.

Carol: ‘Once in Royal David’s City’ (virtual choir)

Once in royal David’s city
Stood a lowly cattle shed,
Where a mother laid her Baby
In a manger for His bed:
Mary was that mother mild,
Jesus Christ her little Child.

He came down to earth from heaven,
Who is God and Lord of all,
And His shelter was a stable,
And His cradle was a stall;
With the poor, and mean, and lowly,
Lived on earth our Saviour holy.

Shepherds came to see this wonder,
And to kneel in holy awe,
At that lowly stable manger
Where the infant lay on straw;
So may we this happy morn
Honour every child that’s born.

From afar three magi journeyed
To that stable rude and bare,
To pay homage to the infant
Off’ring gifts both rich and rare;
So may we our gifts bestow,
Whether we be high or low.

In that happy Christmas spirit,
Hear the angels from on high
Sing their ancient salutations:
Joy’s a gift you cannot buy.
So may we, with heart that sings,
Share the truth this season brings.

Reading: ‘Christmas is Subversive’ by Kendyl R Gibbons (read by Patricia)

One of the great things about Christmas is that it is a sturdy holiday.

Christmas doesn’t wimp out when times are hard –
it comes anyway, even if there are hardly any presents,
even when there isn’t much food to make a feast with,
even if you’re sad, even if the world around you is at war,
even if you are living in fear and danger and oppression, Christmas still comes.

And when it comes, Christmas is subversive.
Christmas, with its story of an unwed mother and a doubtful father;
with its legend of a helpless baby, born in a stable,
who was worshipped by some of the wisest, richest men in the world;
with its tale of the child pursued by the deadly wrath of kings,
who escaped as a refugee to a foreign land far from home.

Christmas, with its ancient, enduring summons
of peace on earth, good will to all people, everywhere.

You can’t stop a day like that with a little hardship, or greed, or injustice.
It will show up anyway, shining the light of a midnight star
into the darkest places of our collective lives.

Do not underestimate the power of the manger, and the hope it holds.
The Christmas song of the angels is not as innocent as it sounds.
It has turned the world upside down before now. It still can.

Reading: ‘Christmas Eve’ by Kathleen McTigue (read by Brian)

All these centuries after the story of the star,
the wise men, the baby born in the stable
and the angels singing him in with their
mysterious alleluias,
we are lost and wandering still.
We stumble at every step
over our own greed or need, our ignorance or fear.

Bethlehem is not a gentle city tonight.
Its people are wise in the ways of the clenched fist, the broken truce.
Marked like them with the scars of ignorance and sorrow
we come to Christmas baffled as any shepherd
by the music that sounds so high above us,
the syntax foreign to our sceptical hearts.

Yet we try to speak the language of hope,
lifting ourselves toward the future with a dream
of what yet may be.

We remember that the heart of Christmas is hope:
hope that a child, born homeless and in danger,
may grow up to be wise and kind;
that the stars, serene in their darkness,
have something to teach;
that there are mysteries around us, among us, singing ethereal harmonies.

New hope in ourselves rises then, too:
that we will learn, one day,
and in the nick of time, how to walk our paths
with truth and justice, how to bring peace to life on this earth,
how to sing for ourselves the angels’ songs
of praise, wonder and joy.

Carol: ‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’ (Kensington Unitarians)

It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold:
“Peace to the earth, goodwill to all,
From heaven’s all-gracious King!”
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled;
And still their heavenly music floats
O’er all the weary world.
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing,
And ever o’er its babel sounds
The blessèd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long:
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And those who are at war hear not
The love-song which they bring:
O hush the noise, all ye of strife,
And hear the angels sing!

And ye, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow:
Look now! For glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!

For lo! The days are hastening on,
By prophet-bards foretold,
When, with the ever-circling years,
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Time of Prayer and Reflection: adapted from words by Claire Wilton

We’re moving now into a meditative time. Let’s each do what we need to do to get into the right state of body and mind to pray together now. And let us open our hearts to prayer.

Spirit of Life, God of All Love, Source of our very Being;
At this time of darkness we remember those who are burdened.
Those who thoughts and feelings weigh heavily;
and our own friends and family members who we know
will have a tough time this season.
Let there be light in the darkness.

We remember those who feel alone while all around them have company.
We also think of those who find it hard to be surrounded
by the noise, colour and commotion of Christmas.
Let there be light in the darkness.

We think of those who do not have a warm place to spend the cold days;
who scuttle around the city looking not for Christmas gifts, but for somewhere to sleep.
Let there be light in the darkness.

We remember those who are no longer with us.
The people we will miss at the most unexpected moments.
The friends who we wish could still be here. Let us smile as we remember them.
Let there be light in the darkness.

There are those of us who do not celebrate the birth of a Christian king;
we may have other faiths; we may have no faith;
we may have strong beliefs of our own, but find ourselves wondering
what all this fuss has to do with the idea of God.
So for all of us, whatever our beliefs…
Let there be light in the darkness.

Responsive Reading ‘We are the Light of the World’ by Becky Edmiston

And I invite you now to join, if you wish, in a prayerful spirit with
the responsive words shown in bold: ‘We are the light of the World’.

Some say that Jesus is the light of the world.
We all can be the light of the world
if we seek to act in ways that enlarge the realms of love and justice.

When we share another’s pain or offer a comforting ear to a friend in need,
We are the light of the world.

When we give bread to the hungry or support ways to house the homeless,
When we fight temptations to wrongdoing within ourselves
and treat our neighbours with respect,
We are the light of the world.

When we try to overcome differences with understanding
and solve conflict with peaceful means,
We are the light of the world.

When we look for the good in other people and in ourselves,
We are the light of the world.

When we do not stay quiet in the face of prejudice,
but speak our minds firmly and gently,
We are the light of the world.

When we fight despair within ourselves and side with hope,
We are the light of the world.

When we use our powers justly and in the service of love for humanity.
We are the light of the world.

We are the light of the world! Amen.

Carol: ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ (Virtual choir)

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark street shineth
The everlasting light;
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

O morning stars together
Proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King,
And peace throughout the earth;
For Christ is born of Mary —
And gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep
Their watch of wondering love.

How silently, how silently,
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The peace and joy of heaven.
No ear may hear his coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enters in.

Introduction to Candle-Lighting:

It’s time now to light our candles and take some time for candlelit stillness and silence. At this point I invite you to switch to gallery view, if you can, so that we can all see each other’s faces, and see the screen fill with the light each one of us brings to this community. I’ll just offer a few words as you light your candles and we’ll hold three minutes of silence.

Let us be still in the darkness of this sacred space,
And listen to the quietness around us and within us.
For even in the silence, there is the gentle being with others.

Let us feel the warmth of our community this night,
Knowing that, even as we are apart, we are not alone.
For in the quiet shadow is the glow of life within all.
Let us know in the darkness the gift each candle bears,
A small flame, perhaps – yet each holds the wondrous gift
to kindle another’s glow – to bear the light onward.

Let us be in awe at this moment as we each lift up the flame
And the light envelops this gathering we’ve co-created,
As hope for peace and goodwill shines all around.

Silence (3 min)

Carol: ‘Silent Night’ (Virtual choir)

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight,
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing “Alleluia”,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Child of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Reading: ‘Christmas Eve Meditation’ by Anya Sammler-Michael (read by Jeannene)

Blessed and holy night, silent night,
full of truths too awesome to bend into words,
we sit in the glow of ages,
wound round stories that teach us
some of what it means to be human,
and some of what it means to see God.

The meditations of our hearts, and prayers of our souls,
speak our independent needs, loves and yearnings –
…may they collect, for a moment, in this our common experience,
as we direct them together, in a spirit of petition.

We seek the patience to peer long enough,
in the eyes of our brothers and sisters,
our cousins and niblings, all our relations,
that we too may see them as children,
of loving mothers and fathers,
children of divinity itself.

We seek the wisdom to pause long enough,
before making hasty judgments
that separate us from one another,
that separate us from our very souls.

We seek, the strength to hold the lives
that are placed in our own tender care,
not to protect them from every trial – no arms are that strong –
but to hold them in the light, as long as the light is available.

We seek the still small call to compassion,
that cannot be silenced by greed, fear, or anger,
the call that roots so deeply in our humanity,
that it will out, should we pause long enough to listen.

For all of these we give of ourselves, in prayer or meditation,
not to end with an amen, but so we might find the means
to make our yearnings manifest in our world, by the work of our hands,
and the proclamation of our hearts. May it be so. Amen.

Carol: ‘I Heard the Bells’ (Kensington Unitarians)

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!”

Reading: ‘You Have to Know Your Body as the Home of God’ by Rebecca Parker (read by Jef)

You have to know your body
as the home of God
And this is the purpose of Christmas.

The rose blossoming in the wilderness
is the unfolding of your pleasure
as the fingers peel an orange and sweetness buds in the mouth.

The bright star in the night sky
is the sudden clarity of your instinct for joy.

The birth cry in the night
is your child,
falling into the dark,
and your arms holding her.

The terror of Herod’s murderous intent
is your rage that would prefer death to change.

The singing angel is your voice at church,
not sure of the tune
but certain, for a moment, that there is glory.

The animals, breathing their warm breath
in the fragile stable are your emotions
kneeling into the body of earth
at ease in the presence of God.
Mary is you
God in your body.
Joseph is you
sheltering God in the world.

This is the key to the mystery,
The Word became flesh.

We are the dwelling place.

Reading: ‘Meeting the Messiah’ by Jeffrey B Symynkywicz (read by Chloe)

When we scale, at last, the walls
which our hardened hearts have built,
then we come face-to-face, finally,
with the blessedness of one another.
Then we see that these struggling fellow pilgrims
with whom we share this space
are no longer robbers, pirates, and thieves,
but deepest friends, most intimate souls.

To see this Creation with the eyes of God
means seeing with the eyes of peace;
it means finding ways to bind up the broken,
even when the world says it can’t be done.

To scale these walls of alienation and despair
means living our lives in truth, with justice;
neither denying the holy gifts of our hearts
and souls, nor hoarding them like miser’s gold.

It is the simplest call of all, in essence:
To open ourselves to God,
we first open ourselves to one another.
Each day we live, in hope, the deepest possibilities
of our dreams and of our visions in this life,
we dwell as well in heaven.

Then it is that we will turn and greet one another,
knowing at long last the simple blessing
of standing fully in the presence of another true messiah,
face-to-face with one like us: a beaming, holy child of God.

Carol: ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ (virtual choir)

We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
And a Happy New Year!

Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
We wish you a merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year!

Now bring us some figgy pudding,
Now bring us some figgy pudding,
Now bring us some figgy pudding,
And bring some right here!

Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
We wish you a merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year!

We won’t go until we get some
We won’t go until we get some
We won’t go until we get some
So bring it out here!

Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
We wish you a merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year!

We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
And a Happy New Year!

Good tidings we bring to you and your kin;
We wish you a merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year!


Just a few abbreviated announcements before we close tonight. Thanks to Trevor and Peter for our opening and closing music and to all the singers who gamely volunteered for our virtual Christmas choir: Maria, Fred, Gaynor, Tati, Shari, Hannah, John, Sonya, Ned, Sarah, Torry, and Veronica, not forgetting Marilisa Valtazanou who also mixed these lovely voices all together. Thanks to all our readers too: Patricia, Brian, Jeannene, Jef, and Chloe.

We’ll keep the zoom room open for a while after the service as usual so you can stay and chat if you’d like. If that’s not your thing do get in touch via email if you’d like to introduce yourself. We’ll be back here on Zoom at 10.30 this Sunday, Boxing Day, for a midwinter service. Tonight we’ve been all about the light and on Sunday we’ll be snuggling down into the dark of winter. I might still need one or two people to read on Boxing Day so if you’re expecting to be here and you might like to do a reading get in touch (though you’ll probably get the reading at the last minute!).

And I think I’ll leave it there for the announcements tonight. All the other information about forthcoming events is in the weekly email and I’ll do more fulsome reminders on Sunday. Let’s sing together one more time before we close. This has become a Christmas Eve tradition for our congregation and it’s a way to bless each other for the days to come: the Goodnight Hymn.

Carol: ‘Goodnight Hymn’ (Kensington Unitarians)

To you each, my friends, tonight
I give thanks for company;
We have shared the inner light:
May that light go forth with thee.
May we give each other power –
Live with courage every hour.

As we face the coming week,
With its worries and its strife,
Strength and wisdom let us seek
In this hour’s remembered life.
May we give each other power –
Live with courage every hour.

In our homes and in the street,
In a world with sadness rife,
May we show to all we meet
Glory that we find in life.
May we give each other power –
Live with courage every hour.

To you each, my friends, tonight
I give thanks for company;
We have shared the inner light:
May that light go forth with thee.
May we give each other power –
Live with courage every hour.

Closing Prayer: ‘Alive in the World’ by Parisa Parsa (adapted)

Spirit of life and love, in whom we are one;
God who is present in every birth;
into our hearts this season we ask for an opening –
a door through which your grace may pass –
and offer each of us a new path to life.

Help us to see in each and every stranger
the presence of eternal Love.
Help us to find within our hearts
the presence of abiding Peace.
Help us to find another when we are hurting
and weave together a strengthened Faith.

Let us know you in watchful shepherds
who behold the star of hope in a dark sky.
Let us know you in innkeepers, in anyone
who will make space for the stranger to enter their world.
Let us know you in each and every being in the manger
all creatures of a sacred spirit who know the holiness of each and every birth.
Let us know you in struggling parents
who want the best for their children in a dangerous world –
and in wise people who go out of their way to witness
the wonder of the holy presence here on earth.
Most of all, let us know the joy that is born in our hearts
Each time we see and greet you, eternal love,
alive in the world in the presence of another.

May it be so for the greater good of all. Amen.

Closing Music: ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’ performed by Trevor Alexander and Peter Crockford

Rev. Dr. Jane Blackall

24th December 2021