Category Archives: Advent

We are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For

by Robin Bartlett

Sometimes, Unitarian Universalists ask: “Why do we celebrate Christmas? Haven’t we become post-Christian? Won’t we offend some of our congregants if we sing carols and perform the Messiah or have a Christmas pageant?” We’ve even gone so far as to create a new winter holiday called “Chalica” celebrating our seven principles by lighting candles each night for seven nights in an attempt to be more authentic to our current day practice and theology.

We have become so literal and so earnest about “right belief”, y’all, so averse to religious symbol. It hobbles us in the meaning making department.

Christmas is the most authentic of all Unitarian Universalist holidays. That’s what I want to say. You’ll hear folks talk about Christmas as authentically “ours” because our ancestors were responsible for bringing the Christmas tree to America, or Americanized the Santa Claus we now understand as THE Santa Claus, or that Charles Dickens was Unitarian, or even that a Unitarian wrote Jingle Bells. All true. But I’m just gonna go ahead and say that Christmas is a Unitarian Universalist holiday BECAUSE JESUS.

Christmas is a holiday that celebrates the incarnation, humanity as God with skin on. Unitarians throughout history reminded us again and again of two things: 1) that God is God, and 2) that the fact that Jesus was not fully God is important: Jesus was born to tell us that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for; proof that we humans can do God stuff. The Messiah is among us, born in human form again and again. revealed in the most unlikely of places, like a manger or a jail cell. That God’s kingdom is inside of us, among us, beneath our feet. That we are responsible for making it so.

And Universalists remind us that God is love. That God so loved the world that God gave Jesus to us, to remind us that we are each God’s own beloved. Sisters and brothers of spirit, one. He appeared and the soul felt its worth. This revelation demands that we sing about it, reveling. And then that we DO SOMETHING about it: helping, saving, repairing, caring.

And this is a Unitarian Universalist holiday because whether or not we believe in a supernatural God, a Godly Jesus, or that God’s banner over us is love, we Unitarian Universalists are humanists, and Jesus was the ultimate humanist. Jesus believed in the human capacity to love the hell out of this world. And if we truly believe that we are alone down here, then we better get at it, ’cause no big man in the sky’s gonna do it for us.

We know that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, that we are worthy, and that we need to show one another extravagant, wasteful love to make this broken world whole again. Let’s stop arguing over who owns this holiday, who is worthy of celebrating it, who believes it the most piously and reverently. Let’s stop being so gosh darn literal. Let’s stop worrying who we might offend among us by singing about angels and kings, and start living the incarnation instead. We know that we have this lifetime to repair the world, and that we don’t have much time to do it.

Go get ’em. Be princes and princesses of peace.

Know Yourself Beloved

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by Robin Bartlett

My three year old is a precocious, rather devious three year old who fools a lot of people, most notably her preschool teacher. Her preschool teacher thinks she’s God’s gift to the preschool. I picked her up at preschool the other day, and her teacher said to me, “your child is the happiest child I have ever worked with in my 23 years of teaching, and she is a pleasure to teach day in and day out. She is a leader among her peers in kindness and joy.” There were tears in her eyes as she said this. I thanked her incredulously and left.

As I put her in the car, my three year old hit her seven year old sister when she wouldn’t give her a toy, and immediately started whining with a whine that could break glass, “I’M HUNGRY! I WANT FOOD NOW! I WANT MY DOLL! I DON’T WANT TO WEAR MY COAT! I DON’T LIKE PEOPLE! I DON’T LIKE YOU!”

I said, “Eloisa, your preschool teacher says you are so happy and so kind at preschool all day.”

Eloisa responded: “What the heck?!”

I said: “But when you come home, you whine and cry and are mean to me, Andy and your sister all night.”

Eloisa responded: “You said it, sister!” (Where does she get this??)

I said: “Do you think you could try being the Eloisa you are at preschool when you are at home sometimes?”

Eloisa responded: “I do what I want.”

I drove home cringing while my two girls fought and whined and the baby cried, wondering if I was going to ever have a pleasant evening commute again. When I got home, I did what any rational 30-something parent does when she has a hilarious/infuriating conversation with her child. I posted the conversation to Facebook. And my Facebook friends gave me some wisdom that we parents all need to hear. They said, in various ways, that Eloisa is whiney and crying at home because she’s had a long day, and expended a lot of energy being “good” and she feels safe with us. At home, Eloisa doesn’t have to try to be the best preschooler to go to preschool in 23 years. She can just be tired, cranky, imperfect, funny little Eloisa.

It’s hard trying to be good all day. Are you tired of it, too? It’s also sometimes hard finding a safe place to be tired and imperfect, especially inside of our walled off, self-critical hearts. And there is something about parenthood that makes perfection impossible at the same time our self-criticism meter is going off the charts. We don’t love ourselves the way we love our children, and we need to.

So, I hope you have a place like Eloisa, inside your house or inside your heart, where you don’t have to be the best at anything; where you don’t have to try; where you just are. The place where you know yourself beloved. We are beloved just by virtue of our birth, and we forget that truth, or we never learned to know ourselves that way. And we are so tired. We use a lot of energy and spend a lot of money trying to be good and look good and live good. It’s not giving us joy or peace. It’s not our status as successful professionals, as financially solvent, as excellent parents with polite children, as perfect righteous liberals; it’s not our status as the BEST RECYCLERS EVER or the person that always sends Christmas cards and finds the best black Friday deals that gives us joy or peace, it’s our status as beloved. We succeed, we are loved. We fail, we are loved.

This is the season of Advent, when we quietly, prayerfully wait for the coming of Jesus, a man who came to tell us what God’s love was like. A prophet who taught us that the kingdom of God is inside of us; that we are pre-forgiven, already loved, already whole. Let’s not try to do Christmas perfect this year. Let’s just try to do it real. Let’s wait for it together with some stillness, being gentle with ourselves. Let’s practice loving ourselves the way we love our children this advent; fully and with forgiveness, despite our whiney, sassy, snarky (occasionally violent, sometimes mean) tendencies. Let’s know ourselves beloved.

For the Love of God: On Santa and Who’s In

by Robin Bartlett Barraza

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The miracle of the Christmas story to me is the miracle of the incarnation. We are created from the same source, share the same spiritual lineage, and the whole world is our family. Each night a child is born is holy, and a new person is added to our family. I am thankful that the Jesus story teaches that truth.

In my home, we have had a pretty sad year. We have been learning to live apart in our little nuclear family following a divorce last Christmas. As a result, we have been with the darkness for a long time, and we are ready to welcome the light. Solstice is our favorite holiday, since the longest night allows us to enter fully into the darkness before the nights get shorter and shorter. We appreciate the time to cocoon into our houses together, sprinkling our home with sparkly lights until Spring comes again to remind us of our world re-born. My family is ready for that kind of re-birth, and this season is a beautiful reminder that hope comes slowly and surely. I have had weekly and daily reminders that the whole world is my family because of the kindness and grace offered to me and my kids and ex-husband during this time.

We love the waiting and hoping of advent, so we made an advent altar. You can do this too! On it, we have an advent wreath and a creche, and together we light a candle each Sunday on our wreath for faith, hope, peace, and joy, and share a short advent reading.

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On Christmas Eve, we will tell the beloved story of a child born in a lowly manger, whom poor shepherds visited and angels trumpeted the arrival of. I teach my children that the miracle of the incarnation story of Jesus is the idea that God is born in every child, no matter how poor or humble his/her beginnings. I teach them that they have a little piece of God in them–their capacity to love comes from that holy part.

So speaking of the love and goodness of God born into every child, I have been struggling with the “Santa threat” these days, too. Do y’all know what I’m talking about?

I admit to using Santa as a frequent discipline tool because I have young children (“he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, so you better be good for goodness sake”) and it’s easy. It works. My kids stop bickering or drawing on walls or poking at the fish in its tank or whining about brussel sprouts or whatever they are doing when I pick up my IPhone to call Santa, or start singing that song (the Bruce Springsteen version, of course) menacingly.

Lately, I’ve been worried about what this teaches them about unconditional love and getting “stuff and things” based on being good. I know you’ve thought of this, because you are awesome good parents. I can be a tremendously lazy, tired, stressed-out parent, and go for the easiest tool in my toolbox a lot. Santa’s awesome for that. But I’m worried about what this teaches them about God.

I know not all of you believe in God; at least not an anthropromorphic God with the capacity to love. And I know that some of you are probably weary about making proclamations about God to your children, wanting them to come to their own understandings. Me, too. I was brought up atheist and Unitarian Universalist, and I see the merit in that approach. God is a dangerous, fraught, complicated subject to broach with kids.

But I want to teach my kids something about the nature of God because I know what happens in a vacuum. I know that other people will fill in what I leave out. My kids’ll hear from a friend that God will send some people to hell. They’ll hear from a Girl Scout leader that God will only award some of us for good behavior. They’ll hear from an evangelist that God only favors those who believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins. They’ll hear that only some people are in and the rest are out.

I want my children to know this about God, and this only:

GOD IS LOVE.

I drum this into them. And every time they hear something different on the playground, or from street preachers on the subway, I drum it into them again.

GOD IS LOVE.

And then, for good measure, I tell them: God loves all the children, no matter their behavior. God loves your Muslim friends and your friends who live in the projects and your gay, atheist Godmother and your Catholic abuela and your UU grandmother and your divorced parents and the criminals in the jails and the kids called into the office on a daily basis to sit with the principal. Everyone’s in.

GOD IS LOVE.

I say this when I don’t believe it myself, because I want my kids to expand their circles as wide as they can, to right the wrongs committed in the name of God in this world. Everyone’s in, baby. That’s what I want them to know.

GOD IS LOVE.

Santa, of course, is not God. But he is an unmistakable symbol for God. The parallels are obvious. Santa sees you when you are sleeping and knows when you’re awake. He wants good behavior. He has a white beard and lives in an other-worldly place that sounds a lot like heaven to a child. He has a naughty and nice list. He only rewards you for good behavior, and if you believe in him. Sound familiar? This is not coincidence.

If Santa is a stand-in for God, I want my children to know that Santa loves all the people regardless of their behavior; that Santa loves the poorest of the poor children, and that the fact that they receive less does not mean they are less important; less well-behaved; less loved. I want them to know that the prosperity gospel is false. I want them to know that the reason why they receive good things and abundance is random chance, luck and a result of privilege they were born with. It is not because they celebrate Christmas while others don’t. It is not because of good behavior or God’s favor.

Also, I want them to know that I love them regardless of their behavior, and I hate that I teach them differently with the Santa myth.

This is hard, y’all.

What do you do about Santa? I’d love to hear.

The Wound is the Place Where the Light Enters You

This season is sad and barren and full of unfulfilled longing for so many. Brokenness, dreams deferred, people gone who no longer sit at our festive tables, pain, darkness and loss magnified. Even for some of our children. They feel it all.

For those of you who need some light as the earth descends into darkness, I give you Rumi.

I said: what about my eyes?
God said: Keep them on the road.
I said: what about my passion?
God said: Keep it burning.
I said: what about my heart?
God said: Tell me what you hold inside it?
I said: pain and sorrow?
He said: ..stay with it.
The wound is the place where the Light enters you.

~ Rumi

May it be so for all the walking wounded. There is light, and it is coming. Let us keep vigil together, staying with it, so we might bear the wait.

You are held in love, wounds and all.

We Await: An Advent Prayer

Come, God incarnate,

Show up in humans when we need a little kindness.

Show up in human institutions when we need a little mercy.

Show up in the human world around us when we need a little hope.

Show up in our own broken human hearts when we need to forgive ourselves.

Show up in the form of brand new human babies, who remind us of deep peace and a new day dawning.

Show up in the streets and in the courtrooms and boardrooms and in shelters and in all countries where violence reigns and hope is dim,

Show up on the television and in the smartphones we gaze at all day, on the radio, in the hospital rooms.

Bring with you faith, hope and love.

But most of all, bring love.

We await. We await. Even when our patience is thin and our faith is dying, we await.

Amen.