Unitarian Sunday Reflections

(Hull and Lincoln Unitarians)

19 December 2021



4th Sunday Advent

Carols & Readings Service





A very gracious and Happy 4th Sunday of Advent to you all.

Welcome to this time of reflection, worship and this celebration of Christmas through story and hymn.



Christmas is Waiting to be Born

by Howard Thurman, from The Mood of Christmas, 1973,p21.


Where refugees seek deliverance that never comes,

And the heart consumes itself, if it would live,

Where little children age before their time,

And life wears down the edges of the mind,

Where the old man sits with mind grown cold,

While bones and sinew, blood and cell, go slowly down to death,

Where fear companions each day’s life,

And Perfect Love seems long delayed.



In you, in me, in all humankind.



CAROL: HFL 95 (CD ACH / TK 13)

“O come all ye faithful”

words attributed to John Francis Wade, translated by Frederick Oakeley, HFL 95


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 heart’s 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.



words by John Carter


O Oriens words by Malcolm Guite


First light and then first lines along the east

To touch and brush a sheen of light on water,

As though behind the sky itself they traced

The shift and shimmer of another river

Flowing unbidden from its hidden source;

The Day-Spring, the eternal Prima Vera.

Blake saw it too. Dante and Beatrice

Are bathing in it now, away upstream…..

So every trace of light begins a grace

In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam

Is somehow a beginning and a calling:

‘Sleeper awake, the darkness was a dream

          For you will see the Dayspring at your waking,

          Beyond your long last line the dawn is breaking.’


On this day, what other words need to be said…

we light our chalice for the hope, the joy, the peace and the wonder of this season and all our spiritual considerations and explorations…

we light our chalice for that dawn which is continuously breaking into our lives….


Light the chalice


Let our prayer for this day, and everyday be…


O Eternal Thou, 

Great Spirit of the Journey

May you walk with us today

and all the days of our life.



Lighting of the Advent Candle: Love


“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.

The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference.

The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference.

And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”

― Elie Wiesel


Today we celebrate the ideal of all encompassing love, overcoming our indifference, and calling us to live lives of justice, joy, peace, hope, and love.


Light the candle…..




Unitarian Universalist Minister Robert Fulghum in reflecting upon the season of Christmas said these words


“I know what I really want for Christmas.


I want my childhood back.


Nobody is going to give me that.


I might give at least the memory of it to myself if I try.


I know it doesn’t make sense, but since when is Christmas about making sense, anyway?


It is about a child, of long ago and far away, and it is about the child of now. In you and me.


Waiting behind the door of our hearts for something wonderful to happen. A child who is impractical, unrealistic, simpleminded and terribly vulnerable to joy.”


CAROL: HFL 94 (CD ACH / TK 12)

“I heard the bells on Christmas Day”

words by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


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!”




Christmas Beatitudes

by David Rhys Williams


On this blessed day let us worship at the altar of joy, for to miss the joy of Christmas is to miss its holiest secret.


May we enter into the spiritual delights which are the natural heritage of childlike hearts.


May we withdraw from the cold and barren world of prosaic fact if only for a season:


May we warm ourselves by the fireside of fancy, and take counsel of the wisdom of poetry, story and legend.


Blessed are they who have vision enough to behold a guiding star in the dark mystery which girdles the earth:


Blessed are they who have imagination enough to detect the music of celestial voices in the midnight hours of life;


Blessed are they who have faith enough to contemplate a world of peace and justice in the midst of present wrong and strife;


Blessed are they who have greatness enough to become at times as a little child;


Blessed are they who have zest enough to take delight in simple things;


Blessed are they who have wisdom enough to know that the commonwealth of heaven is very close at hand, and that all may enter in who have eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to understand.



In the Bleak Midwinter

words by Christina Georgina Rossetti


In the bleak mid-winter

Frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron,

Water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow,

Snow on snow,

In the bleak mid-winter

Long ago.


In the ancient story

Of the infant’s birth

Angels in their glory

Promised peace on earth;

But only his mother,

With a mother’s bliss,

Worshipped the beloved

With a kiss.


Christ was homeless stranger,

So the gospels say,

Cradled in a manger

And a bed of hay:

In the bleak mid-winter

Stable-place sufficed

Mary and her baby

Jesus Christ.


Once more child and mother

Weave their magic spell,

Touching hearts with wonder

Words can never tell:

In the bleak mid-winter,

In this world of pain,

Where our hearts are open

Christ is born again.




Luke 1:46-55

New Revised Standard Version


And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies our God,

    and my spirit rejoices in God our creator,

for with Divine favour has this lowly servant been noticed.

    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for the Mighty One has done great things for me,

    and holy is God’s name.


There is mercy for those who walk the divine way,

    from generation to generation.

We have seen that Divine strength;

    As God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

Bringing down the powerful from their thrones,

Lifting up the lowly;

For God has filled the hungry with good things,

    and sent the rich away empty.

We the servant, Israel, have been helped

    Through Divine mercy, remembering

the promise made to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and Sarah and to their descendants forever.”


“What If?: Reflections on Luke 1:46-55”

by Jim Rigby, Advent 2021


“Mary was no friend of empire and concentrated wealth when she declared that her baby would “scatter the thoughts of the proud,” “bring the mighty down from their thrones and lift the lowly;” and would “feed the hungry with good things and send the rich away empty.”


Mary was Jewish. The “Christmas” she sang about was no other than the prophetic promise of a new age that would be good news to the poor but bad news to hierarchies of wealth and power. Unity cannot be reached by good communication alone. Communion is born of justice. Slaveholders cannot truly commune with the ones they are enslaving. Abusive spouses cannot commune with the partners they are abusing.


It is obscene to tell the Christmas story from the perspective of wealth. FOX news celebrated Jesus’ birth with a 50 foot red, white and blue-themed tree decorated with 10,000 glass ornaments and 100,000 lights. Jesus was born in a cattle stall.


It is obscene to tell the Christmas story from the perspective of any one nation. The whole point of the Magi following a star from another country is that Christmas symbolises a love that is bigger than nation or even religion.


It is obscene to tell the Christmas story as though it belongs only to the Christian religion. Love either belongs to us all or it is a broken shard.


The picture of FoxNews’ garish Christmas tree burning next to the hungry and lost leaves us with three haunting questions:


What if this Christmas, we cared as much about people as (we do) property?


What if this Christmas, our faith were not in sectarian religion, but in a universal love that does justice?


What if this Christmas, we were good citizens, not of any one nation, but of the whole world?


We cannot receive the gift of Christmas if we love property more than people, our nation more than humankind or our religion more than truth.”




“O Little Town of Bethlehem”

words by Phillip Brooks,


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.




“O little town of Bethlehem”

by Rev Jim Rigby


Do you ever wonder why so many Christians have fought science over the ages? Why were so many of us afraid to look through Galileo’s telescope? Why did so many of us treat Darwin as a criminal for discovering evolution? Why do so many of us today reject science and join in baseless conspiracy theories?


If we take scripture literally we can lose the capacity for critical thought. If we try to make religion into a consistent philosophy, we must deny any discoveries that call us to larger understandings. Look at the scriptures:  Jesus is said to be from the line of David through Joseph. But if Mary was a virgin, Joseph had nothing to do with it. The prophecy clearly says to call the child “Immanuel,” but they call him “Jesus.”


If scripture is not understood as poetry rich in paradoxes, then it becomes a history infected with contradictions. The Christmas story is best understood as mystic poetry, not historical fact. In the story there is a light shining in the darkness, there is a silent word, a virgin mother, and a “king” born in a cattle trough. What do these images illumine in your life?


Perhaps Joseph can be understood as revealing how we can have meaningful lives even when we cannot see our own place in life. Even if Joseph is not the biological father, he can be a good ally for Jesus and Mary as they struggle through an unfair situation. If Joseph had been “righteous” in the traditional sense, he would have had to reject his fiance who got pregnant out of wedlock. He might even have chosen to join in stoning her had he taken scripture literally. Perhaps Joseph’s place in the Christmas story is to teach us that compassion is more powerful than righteousness, that love is more powerful than morals, and that forgiveness is more powerful than purity. Perhaps Joseph is there to remind us that sometimes we must disobey the legalism of scripture to obey the law of love.



“O Holy Night”

words by Placide Cappeau, music by Adolphe Adam,

English translation by John Sullivan Dwight.


In Roquemaure at the end of 1843, the church organ had recently been renovated. To celebrate the event, the parish priest persuaded poet Placide Cappeau, a native of the town, to write a Christmas poem.[1] Soon afterwards that same year, Adolphe Adam composed the music. The song was premiered in Roquemaure in 1847 by the opera singer Emily Laurey.


Unitarian minister John Sullivan Dwight, editor of Dwight’s Journal of Music, wrote the English version in 1855.[2] This version became popular in the United States, especially in the North, where the third verse resonated with abolitionists, including Dwight himself.[1]



O Holy night! The stars are brightly shining

It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth

Long lay the world in sin and error pining

‘Til He appears and the soul felt its worth

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

Fall on your knees; O hear the Angel voices!

O night divine, O night when Christ was born

O night, O Holy night, O night divine!


Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming

With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand

So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming

Here come the Wise Men from Orient land

The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger

In all our trials born to be our friend

He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger

Behold your King; before Him lowly bend

Behold your King; before Him lowly bend


Truly He taught us to love one another;

His law is love and His Gospel is Peace

Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother

And in His name, all oppression shall cease

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we

Let all within us Praise His Holy name

Christ is the Lord; O praise His name forever!

His power and glory evermore proclaim

His power and glory evermore proclaim




A Christmas Reflection”

by Tom Owen-Towle


“‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt (tabernacled or pitched a tent) in our midst’…. (the Gospel of) John reminds us to enflesh some of our noble moods this time around the calendar. As well as in the days and nights that follow. You know what? When we have ideas, they’re often tame and wooden, but when ideas grasp us, then life occurs, they become flesh.


This season of the year, the Muslims are sometimes observing Ramadan, the lunar month in which the Qur’an was first revealed, a holy night in which the Word of God was born. And during December, Jews often complete their eight-day Festival of Lights (Hanukkah), commemorating the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem after the city was conquered and defiled.


Imagine what would happen if the followers of these three great Abrahamic faiths, along with any one else who cared to join the caravan, would light lamps or candles as a consecration of the temple of peace in the very city that these great religions all claim. Imagine scrubbing the temple walls, not only in Jerusalem but also all over the world, to remove the bloody stains of secular and religious justification for warfare, genocide, bigotry, and slavery. Imagine that each of us might vow to pass the lamp of peace on to the next generation. Imagine that every one of us, who claims to be a card-carrying spiritual wayfarer, would speak peace, moreover, would incarnate peace….our very words become actual flesh, starting in our hearts and our homes.


‘Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me…’”




“It came upon a Midnight Clear”

words by Edmund Hamilton Sears


It came upon the midnight clear,

That glorious song of old,

From angels bending near the heart

To touch their harps of gold:

“Peace to the earth, goodwill to all,

From heavens’s all-gracious King!”

The world in solemn stillness lay

To hear the angels sing.


Still though 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 blessed 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.





Please join me in a time of reflection and prayer,

I invite you to reflect on the readings you have heard, the carols sung…


What Word or Words stand out for you?

How did they effect you? Cause you to feel?

How did they challenge your understanding of this season?

How did they confirm your understanding?





words by A Powell Davies


“O thou who has called us out of the darkness into the marvellous light of life and love, help us find our way through the noise and turmoil of the days ahead to the true meaning of this season, to its quiet joys and to its peace.


Teach us that we cannot hear the songs until our own hearts learn to sing them, and that the most important gifts which we can give to one another cannot be wrapped nor put under a tree.


Show us, whose needs are so great, how close we are to what we seek, and how often the things we want most desperately are our already, if we will only stretch out our hands.


Help us to be brave enough for life and love, and guide us in our search through doubt and darkness until we find the faith which knows no place nor season — until we learn at last that though the very stars may wander, there is that within us which need never lose its way.”





HFL 93 (CD ACH / TK 11)

“Ding Dong! Merrily on High”

words by George Ratcliffe Woodward


Ding dong! Merrily on high

In heaven the bells are ringing:

Ding dong! Verily the sky

Is riv’n with angel singing.

          Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

          Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!


E’en so here below, below,

Let steeple bells be swungen,

And i-o, i-o, i-o,

By priest and people sungen.

          Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

          Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!


Pray you, dutifully prime

Your matin chime, ye ringers;

May you beautifully rime

Your eve-time song, ye singers.

          Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!

          Gloria, Hosanna in excelsis!




by Howard Thurman, from The Mood of Christmas, 1973,p23.


When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flock,

The work of Christmas begins:


To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music in the heart.

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