Today is a day of beginnings and welcoming. It is the first day of the Advent season for the Christian church and the first day of Hanukkah, and candles will be lit around the world today, on both Advent wreaths and menorahs. As we light these physical candles to welcome in these new seasons, we must also work to help keep a symbolic flame of welcome alive; a spiritual flame that serves as a beacon to those to come to this country in hopes of a better life.

“O Come O Come Emmanuel” is a centuries-old tradition, and its haunting melody and sense of longing and anticipation is heard around the world in the weeks preceding Christmas. Its tune was found in a fifteenth-century French hymnal, and is suspected to be even older than the 1400s. Known as an Advent carol, it is often sung in church services before any congregational singing of a Christmas carol, for in the Christian calendar, the Christmas season technically doesn’t begin until Christmas Day and lasts from December 25th to January 6th (Epiphany, when Christians celebrate the baptism of Jesus on Epiphany Day in recognition of his manifestation as the Son of God to the world). Advent is considered a separate season than Christmas and is supposed to be a time of preparation and expectation for the birth of Christ, so Christian churches traditionally sing Advent carols during the Advent season and wait to sing traditional Christmas carols until December 24th.

O Come O Come Emmanuel, performed by The Piano Guys

Waiting to sing about Jesus until Christmas is closer is a tradition that the UUFC has happened to adapt over the years, and while this adaptation has never been deliberately discussed or planned, it has become a wonderful way for us to pay homage to Christian traditions as well as opening up opportunities for music celebrating other December holidays and festivals as well (Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Yule, Bodhi Day, Human Light, Solstice, etc.) It is important to note that while many people at the UUFC have roots in the Christian church, we embrace and welcome people and customs from other cultures and religions, and and one of the ways we can do that is to include pastimes that are different those we feel the most familiar with.

Today’s music for reflection hails from the Jewish faith; this Hanukkah blessing is sung as the menorah candles are lit.

The tradition of lighting the menorah is detailed and specific; even the order in which the candles are placed in the menorah (from right to left) and then lit (from left to right) is predetermined.  The  Hebrew translates to:

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who hallows us with mitzvot [commandment], commanding us to kindle the Hanukkah lights.

Baruch ata Adonai Eloheinu, performed by Waltraud Rennebaum

American composer Lee Hoiby is known for his wonderful works for the voice, ranging from various art songs to a one-act opera based on the telecast of Julia Child baking a chocolate cake.  One his songs, The Lady of the Harbor”, is powerful, moving, and embodies the message that Rev. Jill shared today, as can be seen in its lyrics:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Lady of the Harbor, performed by Monika Beal