The First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg

a community of worship and inquiry

Font Size

SCREEN

Profile

Layout

Menu Style

Cpanel

Articles 2012 Sunday Services Archives

Sunday Service Dec. 2, 2012: Unplugging the Holidays

Unplugging the Holidays

The popular title "Unplug the Christmas Machine" referred to combating the seductive psychology of acquiring more and more each Christmas, encouraged by rampant commercialization. This morning – one week after “Black Friday” – we explore how identifying one’s true longings can help us to create occasions that bring great joy and satisfaction.

The Choir will sing.

Rev. Millie Rochester

Coordinator: Dennis Doyle

Sunday Service September 30, 2012: Ethical Eating

frogandsnakeEthical Eating

Rev. Millie Rochester

We may identify as vegan, perhaps vegetarian, in an effort to make ethical choices in our diet. Are these our only choices? How do we make such decisions? This service will draw on the personal experiences of some who have wrestled with these issues.

Service Coordinator: Dennis Doyle

Dec. 9, 2012: Festival of Lights (sermon)

Festival of Lights

Because Hanukkah falls close to Christmas on the calendar, a common misconception is that it is equivalent to a “Jewish Christmas.” Actually, of course, the two are vastly different.

In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, we find truth from many sources. Accepting it on its own terms, this service addresses whether and how we can derive wisdom from this ancient observance.

Coordinator: Charlene Zelanko

Rev. Millie Rochester 

 

 

Sermon: Festival of Lights

Rev. Millie Rochester

Happy Hanukkah, everyone! The holidays began at sundown, yesterday, and continue for eight days. The timing of Hanukkah is determined by a modified lunar calendar, which causes it to shift a bit from year to year on our calendar, so we can't count on it to always commence on December 8th. It is consistent within the Jewish calendar, though, always beginning on the 25th of Kislev.

Hanukkah is unique among Jewish celebrations. It's the most historically documented of all the Jewish holidays, but the only one that has no biblical basis.

The history I speak of takes us back to the fourth century BCE, when Alexander the Great and his Greek armies conquered the peoples of the Far East. After Alexander's death, his empire broke apart, and was divided up among his generals. Israel came to be ruled by the Syrian Greeks, and their king, Antiochus, tried to force assimilation with Greek traditions and customs. In practical terms, Hellenization meant that Jewish rituals, such as circumcision and keeping the Sabbath, were outlawed. What had been traditional worship in the temple was replaced by animal sacrifice and the worship of Greek gods.

Some Jews, but not all, were willing to be hellenized. In one village near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, when the Greeks ordered that a pig be sacrificed in the temple to prove obedience to Greek authority, an old priest named Mattathias rebelled. He and his sons launched a guerrilla war against them all of their allies. Mattathias himself died of old age shortly after that, but the fight continued, led by his sons. One of them, Judah, was known as the Maccabee – the hammer – and so his followers took on that name, becoming known as the Maccabees. They were greatly outnumbered, but against all the odds they prevailed over the Syrians, and Jerusalem was liberated.

The Jews then set out to rededicate the temple, which had been defiled and ruined. After a thorough cleaning, the lamps would be lit; but only one jar of oil was left that still had the seal of the Jewish high priest. It was just enough to keep the lamps lit for one day, and making more oil was an eight-day process. The miracle associated with Hanukkah is that the oil lasted eight days.

That's the familiar story; but it's not the original story.

I have said that there is historical documentation of Hanukkah. We actually have four sources of information: the First and Second Books of the Maccabees, the manuscripts of Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century of the Common Era; and a medieval work, the Scroll of Antiochus. All of them give accounts of the temple being cleansed and rededicated; even of the lamps being re-lit. Josephus calls the holiday "Lights." There is a suggestion that Hanukkah was established as a celebration lasting eight days to model the holiday of Sukkot.

But there is no mention of a miracle until we come to the commentary portion of the Talmud – reflections of the rabbis – written years later. These ancient documents are composite works that interweave history, legend, law, myth, political struggles, allegory, ancient rules to live by, even religious conflict.

Blu Greenberg, a professor and author, notes:
There are four levels to the story of Hanukkah, each addressing the Jews of any given generation with a different sense of urgency and immediacy. At one level, it is the story of religious freedom and national sovereignty. At the second, Hanukkah is about Jewish particularism versus assimilation. The third is a tale of the few against the many, the weak against the mighty and powerful. And the fourth is about lights and miracles.

No one should be told what to believe, no one should be forced to relinquish her or his identity. These are meaningful values, so it's not surprising that these aspects of Hanukkah resonate for many of us. But what about that last bit – "about lights and miracles"? How did that even come to be part of the story? And what do we do with those aspects – we, who look to reason, not miracles?

The answer lies in human nature, according to many scholars; the human need for a powerful connection with something greater than ourselves. For the ancient rabbis, the courage and determination of the freedom fighters were admirable qualities; and at first, the focus of Hanukkah. But that aspect of the experience could not, in the end, define its entire meaning.
The Maccabees had been victorious in saving their nation, at immense cost. They had survived through great human effort. However, the victory did not endure. Just five years later, Judah was killed in battle. Over time his descendants converted to Greek culture – hellenized, assimilated, after all. Some of them even opposed and persecuted the rabbis. (Strassfeld)
That later history was not what the rabbis wanted to memorialize; rather, the original victory. How to do that?
The scholar Michael Strassfeld writes: "To ensure Hanukkah's lasting importance, the [rabbinical] tradition decided to emphasize its spiritual meaning and its symbol – the menorah." The menorah is specifically mentioned in the biblical text, shown to the prophet Zechariah by an angel, who reminds him, "not by strength, nor by power, but through My Spirit says the Lord."

The meaning of Hanukkah became fuelled by Jewish fidelity – faith in their God, who gave them the courage to persist in defending their religious identity, which was demonstrated in the miracle of the oil.

The contemporary Reconstructionist rabbi, Arthur Waskow offers this insight:
To the rabbis, it was crucial both to call for courage and hope, and to do so in a sphere other than military resistance, which they... viewed (with the tragic lens of historic hindsight) as hopeless and dangerous and self-destructive.

So the story the rabbis told about the Light was the story of the rabbis themselves – absorbing that the Maccabees' military victory had saved the nation, but that getting stuck there would be self-destructive. They needed to bring the Higher Consciousness of courage for Enlightenment into the people's arsenal of spiritual 'weaponry.'

That single bottle of oil symbolized the last irreducible minimum of spiritual light and creativity within the Jewish people – still there even in its worst moments of apathy and idolatry. The ability of that single jar of oil to stay lit for eight days symbolized how with God's help that tiny amount could unfold into an infinite supply of spiritual riches.

Shifting the focus away from the military victory allowed a spiritual space in the festival, powerfully symbolized by the menorah, whose candles are ceremonially lit each night of Hanukkah.

When I look at the menorah, I'm struck by the concept of the Shamash candle – the "helper," which lends its flame to all the others. The image of that flame calls to me, reminds me that every Sunday, and sometimes in between Sundays, we kindle the light of a chalice flame, often with accompanying words. One of the Chalice Lighting verses in our hymnal, "Singing the Living Tradition," was composed by Hannah Senesh, a young Hungarian who emigrated to Palestine. In 1943, she joined the British Army, and volunteered to parachute into Europe, to help resistance fighters aid beleaguered Jewish communities.

But Hannah was caught, tortured, and eventually executed by firing squad, having steadfastly refused to divulge any information about her mission. She was twenty-three years old when she died.

Her words:

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling the flame. Blessed is the flame that burns in the heart's secret places. Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor's sake. Blessed is the match consumed in kindling the flame.

Each time we light our chalice, often from the light of another candle, we offer a blessing – a prayer that truth, hope, love and justice will prevail in our hearts and in the world. The flame we kindle – not just at this time of the year, but always – is our own deepest resource, the fire of our commitment and our humanity; the flame that sustains us beyond all reason. It is a flame that we light in one another, just as the Shamash candle of the menorah shares its flame with each of the others throughout Hanukkah.

I invite you to reflect for a moment on the kindled flame; on who, or what, brought that light into your life; for as Albert Schweitzer rightly said, "Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."

And I invite you to move beyond yourself in your reflection – to consider whose flame you might kindle or re-kindle.

The story of Hanukkah is a rich narrative of persistence and restoration, the story of renewed hope in the face of loss. Rabbi Rachel Berenblat, who writes a blog called Velveteen Rabbi, comments on her annual experience of Hanukkah that it provides, "Maybe, if I'm lucky, a flash of awareness that I can rededicate the holy places in my own life as the Temple was rededicated of old.'"

At this darkest time of the year, once again we turn to light, a symbol so primary, so powerful, that "meanings" we assign can seem inadequate. Perhaps the ancient Israelites needed a solstice festival, just as the pagans did: a ritual to encourage the sun to return, to acknowledge that light is born out of darkness; that hope can emerge from despair. It's entirely appropriate that we light candles, not only for the illumination they provide or the warmth they emit.

Light in the dead of winter, victory when it had seemed improbable, more than enough when there had been far too little, few against many, the freedom to be – these are the essence, and the stories built around them only so much adornment – and therefore alterable."

Those are the words of Arnold Eisen, the seventh chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary. (Strassfeld)

This, for me, is the meaning of Hanukkah: That, just as light has the power to transform world wrapped darkness, we have that power, if only we will dedicate and continually re-dedicate ourselves to that endeavour.
May our lives reflect the spirit of our closing song: that we light a candle, yes; a candle that is our work for justice and peace in the world; light a candle, that we never become our own foe. And,most vital, that we keep that light, that hope, alive. May it be so. Blessed be.

Resources:

Greenberg, Blu, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.

Strassfeld, Michael, The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary, New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

 Festival of Lights

Rev. Millie Rochester

December 9, 2012

 

 

Happy Hanukkah, everyone!   The holidays began at sundown, yesterday, and continue for eight days.  The timing of Hanukkah is determined by a modified lunar calendar, which causes it to shift a bit from year to year on our calendar, so we can’t count on it to always commence on December 8th.   It is consistent within the Jewish calendar, though, always beginning on the 25th of Kislev.

 

Hanukkah is unique among Jewish celebrations. It’s the most historically documented of all the Jewish holidays, but the only one that has no biblical basis. 

 

 

The history I speak of takes us back to the fourth century BCE, when Alexander the Great and his Greek armies conquered the peoples of the Far East.  After Alexander’s death, his empire broke apart, and was divided up among his generals.  Israel came to be ruled by the Syrian Greeks, and their king, Antiochus, tried to force assimilation with Greek traditions and customs.  In practical terms, Hellenization meant that Jewish rituals, such as circumcision and keeping the Sabbath, were outlawed.  What had been traditional worship in the temple was replaced by animal sacrifice and the worship of Greek gods.

 

Some Jews, but not all, were willing to be hellenized.  In one village near the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, when the Greeks ordered that a pig be sacrificed in the temple to prove obedience to Greek authority, an old priest named Mattathias rebelled.  He and his sons launched a guerrilla war against them all of their allies.  Mattathias himself died of old age shortly after that, but the fight continued, led by his sons.  One of them, Judah, was known as the Maccabee – the hammer – and so his followers took on that name, becoming known as the Maccabees.   They were greatly outnumbered, but against all the odds they prevailed over the Syrians, and Jerusalem was liberated.

 

The Jews then set out to rededicate the temple, which had been defiled and ruined.  After a thorough cleaning, the lamps would be lit; but only one jar of oil was left that still had the seal of the Jewish high priest.  It was just enough to keep the lamps lit for one day, and making more oil was an eight-day process.  The miracle associated with Hanukkah is that the oil lasted eight days.

 

That’s the familiar story; but it’s not the original story. 

 

I have said that there is historical documentation of Hanukkah.  We actually have four sources of information: the First and Second Books of the Maccabees, the manuscripts  of Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century of the Common Era; and a medieval work, the Scroll of Antiochus.  All of them give accounts of the temple being cleansed and rededicated; even of the lamps being re-lit.  Josephus calls the holiday “Lights.”  There is a suggestion that Hanukkah was established as a celebration lasting eight days to model the holiday of Sukkot.

 

But there is no mention of a miracle until we come to the commentary portion of the Talmud – reflections of the rabbis – written years later.  These ancient documents are composite works that interweave history, legend, law, myth, political struggles, allegory, ancient rules to live by, even religious conflict. 

 

Blu Greenberg, a professor and author, notes:  

There are four levels to the story of Hanukkah, each addressing the Jews of any given generation with a different sense of urgency and immediacy.  At one level, it is the story of religious freedom and national sovereignty.  At the second, Hanukkah is about Jewish particularism versus assimilation.  The third is a tale of the few against the many, the weak against the mighty and powerful.  And the fourth is about lights and miracles.

 

No one should be told what to believe, no one should be forced to relinquish her or his identity.  These are meaningful values, so it’s not surprising that these aspects of Hanukkah resonate for many of us.  But what about that last bit – “about lights and miracles”?  How did that even come to be part of the story?  And what do we do with those aspects – we, who look to reason, not miracles?

 

The answer lies in human nature, according to many scholars; the human need for a powerful connection with something greater than ourselves.  For the ancient rabbis, the courage and determination of the freedom fighters were admirable qualities; and at first, the focus of Hanukkah.  But that aspect of the experience could not, in the end, define its entire meaning. 

The Maccabees had been victorious in saving their nation, at immense cost.  They had survived through great human effort.  However, the victory did not endure.  Just five years later, Judah was killed in battle.  Over time his descendants converted to Greek culture – hellenized, assimilated, after all.  Some of them even opposed and persecuted the rabbis. (Strassfeld)    

That later history was not what the rabbis wanted to memorialize; rather, the original victory.  How to do that?  

The scholar Michael Strassfeld writes: “To ensure Hanukkah’s lasting importance, the [rabbinical] tradition decided to emphasize its spiritual meaning and its symbol – the menorah.”   The menorah is specifically mentioned in the biblical text, shown to the prophet Zechariah by an angel, who reminds him, “not by strength, nor by power, but through My Spirit says the Lord.” 

 

The meaning of Hanukkah became fuelled by Jewish fidelity – faith in their God, who gave them the courage to persist in defending their religious identity, which was demonstrated in the miracle of the oil.   

 

The contemporary Reconstructionist rabbi, Arthur Waskow offers this insight:

To the rabbis, it was crucial both to call for courage and hope, and to do so in a sphere other than military resistance, which they… viewed (with the tragic lens of historic hindsight) as hopeless and dangerous and self-destructive.

So the story the rabbis told about the Light was the story of the rabbis themselves – absorbing that the Maccabees’ military victory had saved the nation, but that getting stuck there would be self-destructive. They needed to bring the Higher Consciousness of courage for Enlightenment into the people’s arsenal of spiritual ‘weaponry.’
 

 

That single bottle of oil symbolized the last irreducible minimum of spiritual light and creativity within the Jewish people – still there even in its worst moments of apathy and idolatry.  The ability of that single jar of oil to stay lit for eight days symbolized how with God's help that tiny amount could unfold into an infinite supply of spiritual riches.

 

Shifting the focus away from the military victory allowed a spiritual space in the festival, powerfully symbolized by the menorah, whose candles are ceremonially lit each night of Hanukkah.

 

When I look at the menorah, I’m struck by the concept of the Shamash candle – the “helper,” which lends its flame to all the others.  The image of that flame calls to me, reminds me that every Sunday, and sometimes in between Sundays, we kindle the light of a chalice flame, often with accompanying words.  One of the Chalice Lighting verses in our hymnal, “Singing the Living Tradition,” was composed by Hannah Senesh, a young Hungarian who emigrated to Palestine.  In 1943, she joined the British Army, and  volunteered to parachute into Europe, to help resistance fighters aid beleaguered Jewish communities. 

 

But Hannah was caught, tortured, and eventually executed by firing squad, having steadfastly refused to divulge any information about her mission.  She was twenty-three years old when she died. 

 

Her words:

 

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling the flame.  Blessed is the flame that burns in the heart’s secret places.  Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake.  Blessed is the match consumed in kindling the flame.

 

Each time we light our chalice, often from the light of another candle, we offer a blessing – a prayer that truth, hope, love and justice will prevail in our hearts and in the world.  The flame we kindle – not just at this time of the year, but always – is our own deepest resource, the fire of our commitment and our humanity; the flame that sustains us beyond all reason.  It is a flame that we light in one another, just as the Shamash candle of the menorah shares its flame with each of the others throughout Hanukkah.  

 

I invite you to reflect for a moment on the kindled flame; on who, or what, brought that light into your life; for as Albert Schweitzer rightly said, “Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.” 

 

 

And I invite you to move beyond yourself in your reflection – to consider whose flame you might kindle or re-kindle.

 

 

The story of Hanukkah is a rich narrative of persistence and restoration, the story of renewed hope in the face of loss.  Rabbi Rachel Berenblat, who writes a blog called Velveteen Rabbi, comments on her annual experience of Hanukkah that it provides, “Maybe, if I'm lucky, a flash of awareness that I can rededicate the holy places in my own life as the Temple was rededicated of old.’

 

 

At this darkest time of the year, once again we turn to light, a symbol so primary, so powerful, that “meanings” we assign can seem inadequate.  Perhaps the ancient Israelites needed a solstice festival, just as the pagans did: a ritual to encourage the sun to return, to acknowledge that light is born out of darkness; that hope can emerge from despair.  It’s entirely appropriate that we light candles, not only for the illumination they provide or the warmth they emit.

 

Light in the dead of winter, victory when it had seemed improbable, more than enough when there had been far too little, few against many, the freedom to be – these are the essence, and the stories built around them only so much adornment – and therefore alterable.” 

 

Those are the words of Arnold Eisen, the seventh chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.  (Strassfeld)

 

 

This, for me, is the meaning of Hanukkah:  That, just as light has the power to transform world wrapped darkness, we have that power, if only we will dedicate and continually re-dedicate ourselves to that endeavour. 

May our lives reflect the spirit of our closing song: that we light a candle, yes; a candle that is our work for justice and peace in the world; light a candle, that we never become our own foe.  And,most vital, that we keep that light, that hope, alive.  May it be so.  Blessed be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:

Greenberg, Blu, How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1983.

 

Strassfeld, Michael, The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary, New York: Harper & Row, 1985.

Friday, Dec. 21, 2012, 7 pm: Winter Solstice Ceremony

Winter Solstice Ceremony

Going far back into history, every year on or near December 21st, Winter Solstice is celebrated by many cultures the world over. Having reached the shortest day of the year, this event is a celebration of the return of the sun. Come join our Winter Solstice Ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Church on Friday, December 21st at 7:00 p.m.

Feel free to bring your winter solstice stories - and finger food too to share after the ceremony.

Sunday Service, Feb 17, 2013: Evolution in the Modern World

Origin-of-SpeciesEvolution in the Modern World

Rev. Millie Rochester

In the 150+ years since Charles Darwin's great work was published, the debate between science and religion continues. Affirming the interdependence of existence of which we are all a part, this service explores what the author Matt Ridley called "wonderstanding" – where the two disciplines converge today.

A discussion will follow, in the living room.

Service Coordinator: David Candin

Services begin at 10:30. Child care and Religious Exploration classes are available. Please phone 204-474-1261 for more information.

First Unitarian Universalist Church of Winterpeg

603 Wellington Crescent, Winterpeg, Manitoba, Canada R3M 0A7
Office Hours and Emails | Map and Parking | Phone: (204) 474-1261 | E-mail: office@uuwinnipeg.mb.ca
Contact the Webmaster | Site by Karin Carlson | UU Amazon Store

We are a Welcoming Congregation
Affiliated with the Canuck Unitarian Council and the Unitarian Universalist Association

Donate Now Through CanadaHelps.org!

Endowment Fund Donation

Donate to the Church

You are here: