Sunday Service Message December 22, 2019: Listen To What I Say

"Rapping" Christmas Gifts

Do You Hear What I Hear?1

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

As we light the fourth candle on the Advent wreath, representing Joy, Rev. Joanne asks us to “Listen to What I Say.”

The Christmas Season can mean different things to different people.  It can also mean different things to each of us at different times, or even simultaneously; religious and spiritual symbolism, happiness of family gatherings, the joy and wonder in the eyes of a child, and hope for humanity are all commonly mentioned when people are asked, “What does Christmas mean to you?”

There are other things Christmas can mean too, of course, and one of those is stepping outside of our comfort zone.  This might mean volunteering at a local church or charity, having a difficult conversation with a family member, or actually making eye contact with a homeless person who you have seen at the corner with a “please help” sign.  When we step outside of our comfort zone, whatever that might be, we give ourselves the opportunity to grow.

Taking such action need not always be felt with dread or seen as a chore.  Rev. Joanne did not just talk the talk, but walked the walk this week in stepping outside her comfort zone.  Accepting a challenge from a congregant to someday sing her Sunday message, she went not one, but two steps further.  She wrote a song, and sang it in rap style.

To me, this was impressive on many levels.  Not only did she write and perform a song in a musical form that is not necessarily an everyday staple for her, but in doing so incorporated the theme of the lesson directly into the music.  Rev. Joanne is a gifted speaker and is very comfortable addressing a congregation, and is rarely nervous when giving a talk.  She admitted that singing her Sunday talk – at least the first portion of it – did give her some butterflies.

Once in the flow of the performance, it was clear that she was having fun.  Hearing the joy and happiness in her voice, and seeing her mannerisms go from hesitant and unsure to flowing and confident, the message transmitted was not just the lyrics, but that often the more difficult part of stepping outside our comfort zone is not the doing of whatever that thing may be, but just getting started in the first place.

When we are young and are being taught Bible stories, the first one we learn is about the birth of Jesus - Mary and Joseph, no room at the inn, manger, angels, magi.  We learn this classic story from the “synoptic” gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, so called because they recount many of the same stories in very similar or even identical wording.  Then there is the gospel of John.

Biblical scholars tell us that the Gospel of John was written in approximately 110 A.D.  This was more than 75 years after Jesus’s death and at least 40 years after the others were written.  All four were anonymous (the modern names were added in the 2nd century), almost certainly none were by eyewitnesses, and all are the end-products of long oral and written transmission.2  Anonymous or not, by eyewitnesses or not, many years after the fact or not, are all irrelevant when we consider the importance of the symbolism they contain.

The Gospel of John gives a very different interpretation of the story of Jesus’s birth.  This gospel was likely not written for Jews who were followers of The Way, as the other three were, but rather for Gentile converts.  Chronologies and genealogies fulfilling ancient prophecies were less important.  Mystical and metaphysical symbolism and imagery were used to get to the core of the meaning of just what “the Christ” is.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.  In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  There was a man sent from God whose name was John.

He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe.  He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.  He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.  Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.   John 1:1-14

In The Revealing Word, Charles Fillmore tells us being “born of the Word” means, “Man3 is the consummation of the Word.  His spirit has within it the concentration of all that is contained within the Word.  God being perfect, His idea, thought, Word, must be perfect.  Jesus expresses this perfect Word of God as spiritual man.  The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”4

We learn from this passage from the Gospel of John and from The Revealing Word, that the Christ has always been within us, so the “birth” of Christ is the awakening of the awareness and understanding of the Christ-nature that is an innate part of every person.

Once we realize that we are all “the Christ” it makes embracing Faith, Peace, Love, and Joy just a little bit easier.  Not easy, but easier.  At one time or another, everyone has allowed outer circumstances to steal our happiness and joy.  Health challenges, family discord, and financial setbacks effect everyone.  But Rev. Joanne reminds us that happiness and joy are not just emotional states, but are also habits.  This is not to say we will be happy all of the time no matter what, but just like regular exercise makes our muscles stronger, regularly practicing happiness and joy techniques facilitates our experiencing them more frequently and at greater depth.

Richard Davidson, Founder of the Center for Healthy Minds, tells us that his research shows that while happiness comes and goes, joy is an overall sense of well-being.  He provides us with four ways that we can actively cultivate happiness and joy in our lives.5, 6

  1. Attitude – What attitude am I bringing to each situation in my life?  Do I see the world as a glass half empty or a glass half full?  Do I approach a challenge with a “why me?” attitude, or an attitude of, “okay, this is a thing in my life right now.  How will I work to improve the situation or adapt to inevitable change?”
  1. Resiliency – Becoming resilient to the ups and downs of life is a key to overall well-being.  We all know that dealing with life’s “downs” requires resiliency, but sometimes life’s “ups” require maintaining proper perspective so that if the positive condition recedes that we are not devastated by disappointment.  Meditation, prayer and spiritual practice do not guarantee no hardships, but rather foster the awareness within us that Divine Ideas will be ours when we know there are such things, and equally important, learn how to recognize them as such and implement them.
  1. Generosity – Cultivate a habit of “givingness.”  This includes, but is certainly not limited to, the giving of gifts.  The gifts of love, understanding, compassion, and dedication are far more valuable than “stuff.”  Ask anyone who had an absent parent when they were a child.  What was more important to them, the gizmo or toy given on a birthday, or the time spent playing ball, going to the movies, or just being together in genuine familial love?  No contest.
  1. Awareness – Mindfulness of our outer circumstances and our reactions to them is a key to managing what life brings us.  There are many methods and techniques one may use to develop mindfulness as a practice.  I recommend investigating the writings of Thich Nhat Hanh.  An excellent article of the topic entitled “Be Mindful in Daily Life” can be found at:  https://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/be-mindful-in-daily-life.

The human brain possesses a characteristic known as neuroplasticity.  When we learn, practice and repeat the same information or behaviors, our brain physically changes to accommodate the new information.  So when we practice the above techniques we actually do make happiness a habit.

So, we have seen that we all have had the Christ within us from the beginning, and that happiness is a habit.  In the song “Do You Hear What I Hear” the king asks the people to listen to him and pray for peace everywhere.  Rev. Joanne, in her soon-to-be-a-classic rap, tells us to listen to her and that, “We all gotta do our part allowing love to win.”  Difficult to argue with that.

Scripture:

Let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy.  Psalm 5:11

Spiritual Practice:

As you move through your week, consider how you can BE the gift of Christ in all your interactions.  What gift of self can you give to others as you make the choice to let your Divine Light shine?

This week, I plan to begin the practice of making happiness a habit.  When I am feeling an emotion that is out of proportion, or even completely inappropriate to a situation, I will stop, breathe and ask myself “what is this feeling telling me, and how can I react more peacefully?”  How will you be the gift of the Christ this week?

Greg Skuderin

1Do You Hear What I Hear?, Lyrics – Noel Regney; Music – Gloria Shayne.

2Reddish, Mitchell (2011).  An Introduction to The Gospels.  Abingdon Press.

3During the time that Charles Fillmore was writing, the use of the word “man” in this context denoted the reference to all humans, not to refer only to males.  Modern writers would likely use the word humanity or all people in its place.  Similarly, when Fillmore or other Unity writers refer to race consciousness, they are not referring to a person’s physical skin color or appearance, but rather as a reference to the human race as a collective.

4Revealing Word, The, Charles Fillmore, Unity Press, 1959.

5Dr Richard J. Davidson, a US-based neuroscientist and Founder and Chair of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, shares the motivation behind his work on neuroplasticity, emotion regulation, mindfulness and their impacts on wellbeing and education.  Center for Healthy Minds – www.centerhealthyminds.org.

6The four categories of Attitude, Resiliency, Generosity and Awareness are given by Richard Davidson.  The brief comments following each are my own understanding of them.