Gift Service at Brunswick Square 13.12.2020 with Karl and Mark Stewart

Opening words and chalice lighting

We meet today in this circle of community

To give to one another our presence,

Our smiles, our listening and understanding of one another,

Here we are connected within

And out from the circle of hands we give without

To those in need, without condition.

May we give freely as we have received.


INTROIT – See the Candle Flame – by Karl

See the candle flame 

Shining in a dark stable 

See the new born baby of the world 

Under a golden star 

This is our child of Christmas, 

A gift to the world 

HYMN - Joyful is the dark, p.82 

Listen to ‘The Best Gift’ as sung by Barbra Streisand

The best gift
That I ever got
Didn't really weigh a lot
It didn't have a ribbon 'round
And it sometimes made the terrible sound
The best of all it seems to me
It wasn't neath the christmas tree
And yet, I guess I'd have to say
That it made all the other presents twice as gay
The best gift that I've ever known
I'd always wanted most to own

Yet in my dreams of sugar and spice
I never thought it could be so nice
The best gift that I ever get
Was sometimes dry and sometimes wet
Was usually pink but oftentimes red
As it lay so innocently in it's bed
The best gift of the year to me
The one I hold most dear to me
A gift that simply drove me wild
Was a tiny new born child... 

Reading – Egypt is the gift of the Nile

Taken from article in ‘Egypt’ 

The famous Greek historian Herodotus summarised the importance of the river to the Egyptians by saying "Egypt is the gift of the Nile". 

The ancient Egyptians thought that the Nile is the gift of the gods. They equated it with life itself, and they organised their daily lives according to the high and low levels of its water. The Egyptian calendar was based on the three seasons of the Nile: The flood, agriculture, and harvest.

The flood season began with the appearance of "Al-Shaary Al-Yamani" or "Sirius", which is the brightest star. Its appearance also means the beginning of a new Egyptian year. 

Herodotus' sayings and recordings show that the flood of the Nile was coincident with the summer solstice phenomenon, that is, June 21st / 22nd of every year.

Because the Nile means life, when it overflows it brings prosperity and fertility to the soil and people around it, but if its water level rises too much, people lose their mud houses, and if the level does not rise enough, drought and famine occur.

Thus it was important for the gods to control the river. The two main deities involved in organizing this process are Khnum and Hapi, according to legend.

Khnum, the Nile god with a ram's head, was the god of water, who brings life to the banks of the river, where plants grow and animals reproduce, and since silt forms after the flood, Khnum was also thought to create humans out of this mud.

As for the god Habi, he was the one in control of the flood of the Nile. Usually, this god appears in both genders, having male features and a female upper body, which reflects both the personality of the father and mother of the Nile, and so he/she is able to achieve fertility. 

In addition, God Osiris played a role in one of the famous legends of the Nile, and this legend says that Osiris was killed by his brother Set because of jealousy. His body was cut into 40 pieces, and thrown into the Nile, which, in turn, threw shredded parts of Osiris' body in the Mediterranean.

However, his wife, Isis, succeeded in finding and collecting his body parts, and thanks to the divine powers she possessed, Isis managed to revive Osiris and conceive a child, and then gave birth to Horus who grew up in the papyrus field in the delta, far from his malevolent uncle Set.

Later, the god Horus succeeded in avenging his father, Osiris, by killing his uncle Set, and from here the death and resurrection of Osiris became associated with the flood of the Nile and the decline of its water level.

Some sources say that the ancient Egyptians believed that the flood of the Nile was the tears of Isis, mourning the death of her husband Osiris. 

Is is clear that there are mirrorings of biblical creation myths in the Egyptian stories as well as mirrorings of the biblical nativity story with the birth of Horus as a saviour and bringer of life, and likewise the Easter story with the death and resurrection of his father Osiris. It is clear that this idea of divine giving and divine taking-away exists across many cultures throughout the ages. 

HYMN – True Simplicity 

Karl Address

So we simply give… is it as simple as that? 

We look many times over at the choice and meaning of what it is to give, what is giving and I ask myself am I right in what I’m giving. I have found myself hesitating in a shop aisle or looking at the pages of all the things you can buy from the internet. I might also ask about theses so-called ‘bolt-ons’. ‘Bolt-ons’ really, “would you like to add?”, “are you going add?”, “sign up for the notification so you don’t miss out”, and there is the cursory - “we look forward to seeing you again”, and “don’t miss out on....” I find myself for ever feeling that we are being sold a culture. We are almost being invited to give all the year round and buy all year round; but surely we only buy to give as we need to, such as when the occasion should arise. 

We sang a while ago the hymn “True Simplicity” there telling us how “it’s a gift to be simple, a gift to be kind, and turn, turn around just right”. I find that the word gift is the true representation of an unconditional symbol. Is it something past the understanding of anyone’s capacity to know: the true and sacred gift of how the human heart rests within you. So sacred is the human heart, that it gives with love. This is what has drawn us to the very core of our meeting now. We are here in honest meeting, we gather; we give; I come here with an undefended heart, just waiting, resting, holding, living just in the moment; its beat connecting with mind and soul, knowing that there is something to send out in the grace of the holiness in the self. 

Meeting here now, we are giving of all that our heart and conscience can afford; we are willed to give. When we question ourselves about if we’re giving enough, what is it that we feel we should be giving? Where is the moral compass of your giving pointing? Is it towards giving of money, of time, of care, of compassion, of knowledge? Where in your inner self is your impulse to give? 

Here are a few questions to ponder. What is the best gift of the self? Why am I giving? What brings you to give? Is the moral of the gift true to your inner-self? How do you wish your gift to be received? What does the grace of the sacred tell you about receiving? 

As we have done in previous years we shall be giving from this gathering to one of our local charity places - only this year we give money, as we are in a situation not to be able to give food donations. 

We know that the pandemic is temporary, and that we shall hopefully be able to return to giving food donations again next year. 

Yet in the same way, every stage of life is temporary. There are always going to be challenges to our giving, even if not on the global scale of the pandemic. 

How do we reach out to other souls in need of our gifts, or support the many great charities that try to do this? What courage and answering of our heart’s call of compassion do we need to leap the many boundaries between us and our giving? 

Perhaps our own fear of scarcity gets in the way of our giving – “what if I don’t have enough for me?” or our fear of the scarcity of our time spent giving? Or especially at this time, fear around the scarcity of our health - “what if I get sick whilst trying to help others?” What is the nudge, the impulse of compassion within your heart that allows you to overcome these obstacles to giving? 

How can we remind ourselves that we are temporary custodians of the sacred grace that lives within us all, and that it is our mission whilst here to help with our whole hearts whilst we can. 

I invite you just for a few moments to think of a place you go once in a while, perhaps somewhere near your home or a little further. Somewhere that might be a walk you go on. Let’s say you have arrived at this place and you walk along the path. Having been there before you know that path; you may have walked it several times. Or maybe you haven’t been there in a few months or years but you return again; the path might have changed, but it still goes where it always went. There you are walking along it, knowing that this path is not yours; it belonged to the land from before you ever stepped foot upon it, and will belong to the land again after you have left it. But every step of that journey is yours. These are your steps, your thoughts, your revelations. You come again to this path, you return and it welcomes you back to continue your journey. This is the gift of the wilderness: it’s there, yet changed by the many who traversed it while you were walking in other places. And when you come back to it perhaps you see someone you don’t know there, tracing the same path as you. Maybe you give a smile and a hello, and receive hopefully a smile and a hello back. The gift of the wilderness is in the wholeness of meeting and giving, and with grace receiving. 

Today and all the other days we will find ourselves giving and receiving. Here we have gathered to answer the divine call, this call is the invitation that says “here we give, today we give, tomorrow and all the days to come we will receive and yet again give”. Here and now we are living the call, living this vocation with each and every one of us sharing the small grain of the holy that is in us all. Not only are we are we giving because our call says we should and because it’s the right thing to do. We give because we can and we give of what our heart and conscience can afford. This is our giving ministry, and whoever receives it, we hope shall know that it is given with love. 

As we journey through this labyrinth of the precious path, we will meet many in need. May we listen out for the still small voice within that says, “there is enough - give freely and surely with abundance you shall receive”. 

I will give my little today for someone else’s plenty tomorrow. May we do so by the grace of God. Amen. 

Reading and discussion – New Testament references to gifts

I’ve looked up some of the many references to ‘giving’ from the New Testament of the bible, with the idea of thinking about how we might translate these into more Unitarian and Universalist language which might be more meaningful to us. Is there a way that you can make any of these quote relevant to you? (To think about, discuss at the end). 

James 1:17 

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 

John 3:16 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 

Ephesians 2:8 

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God. 

Romans 12:6 

Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith. 

Acts 2:38 

And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

2 Corinthians 9:15 

Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! 

Ecclesiastes 3:13 

Also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man. 

1 Timothy 4:14 

Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. 

1 Corinthians 12:7 

To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 

Matthew 7:11 

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! 

John 4:10 

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 

Luke 6:38 

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” 

Matthew 6 

“Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 

James 1:5 

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 

James 4:6 

But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 
Adapted from the online article: The Gift That Lasts Forever: 

5 Ways Jesus Is the Ultimate Gift to Mankind, substituting the name Jesus for ‘unconditional love’ with some other small adaptations. 

Gift-giving is without a doubt a celebrated tradition during the Christmas season and on special occasions throughout the year. Billions of pounds are spend on gifts like books, art, clothing, toys, gadgets, cookware and jewellery. But like any earthly possession, these gifts don’t last. By the next holiday, the clothes are worn, the toys are broken, the perfume is used up, and the pots and pans are scratched. Sooner or later, every gift is destined for the rubbish bin or donation pile. No earthly gift, no matter how priceless or thoughtful, will last forever, but there is a spiritual gift that does. 

The course of history changed when the concept of ‘unconditional love’ entered the scene. Wrapped up in this concept of unconditional love are all the answers to our questions, the fulfilment of our needs, and the satisfaction of our longings. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are some of the ways in which unconditional love is the ultimate gift to humanity. 

Unconditional Love Is Our Righteousness 

“Yes, human fallibility brings sorrow for everyone, but unconditional love as an act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone”. In the metaphor of The Garden of Eden, we lost our relationship with God because we couldn’t accept our own fallibility, and were too proud and afraid to admit it. But when unconditional love steps in, the door is opened to the possibility of new life and a relationship with God. When God looks at her children, she sees a righteousness, which can never be damaged or deleted. 

Unconditional love Is Our protector 

“Unconditional love is my protector; I shall not want. It leads me to rest in green pastures; beside still waters. It renews my strength. It guides me along right paths, bringing honour to what it means to be human. 

A shepherd faithfully tends to the needs of their wayward and belligerent flock. Day after day, they guide them to food and water, protect them from danger, and keep them healthy. The sheep can do nothing for themselves, but willingly the protector does everything for them. This is what unconditional love does for us every day, tending to ourselves, each other and the world with kindness and tenderness. “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as God knows me and I know God. So I give up my fear and pride for the sake of the sheep” (John 10:14-15). 

Unconditional love Is Our Healer 

Unconditional love is our healer, healing both physical and spiritual maladies. “Let all that I am dwell in unconditional love; may I never forget the good things it does for me. It forgives all my fallibility of mind, body, spirit, word, thought and deed. No illness, injury or emotional wound is too deep or too complex for unconditional love to bring wholeness to the affected area. While the answers to these needs may be different from the ones we imagined, we can trust that the goodness of unconditional love is never in error as it works its healing ways in our lives. 

Unconditional love Is Our Peace 

In our culture, peace is often defined as the absence of strife and chaos, but as spiritually inclined people, we enjoy a deeper meaning of peace. Peace is not just the absence of chaos, but the presence of unconditional love. Unconditional love can come to us in the midst of any circumstance and creates peace right where we stand. In the midst of strife. In the midst of daily living. In the midst of noise. In the midst of terror and war, “Unconditional love will be our peace…”. 

Unconditional love Is Our Hope 

Unconditional love is our hope in the fiercest of storms, and its hope lights up our life like a beacon on the shore. Its hope is the only anchor worth hanging on to in a world that constantly shakes and changes. Yes, we are called to endure such shaking and changing, but such calamities don’t define us. They are not the end of our story. Our hope is that unconditional love can’t be shaken, outdated or deleted. “This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls. It leads us through the curtain into God’s inner sanctuary” (Hebrews 6:19). 

Unconditional love is perhaps the only beautiful, eternal gift in a world of temporal and disposable gifts. Is comes to this earth through us so we can bring light to the world, and to give us full and abundant life. A life wrapped up in the hopeful striving toward unconditional love. 

HYMN – We three kings  

Closing Words: The Gift - Mary Oliver

Be still, my soul, and steadfast.
Earth and heaven both are still watching
though time is draining from the clock
and your walk, that was confident and quick,
has become slow.

So, be slow if you must, but let
the heart still play its true part.
Love still as once you loved, deeply
and without patience. Let God and the world
know you are grateful. That the gift has been given.