A traditional description of Christmas, one steeped in piety and sentiment, is “The Season of Miracles.” Miracle, as it is generally understood in this context, refers to the supposed conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit of God to the young Virgin Mary, followed by his birth in that humble stable in Bethlehem, a birth announced by a “heavenly host” of angels. Such a tale fits the definition of miracle, “an object of wonder,” a thing unexpected and unexplainable by any normal standards.
Miracle stories, if intended to be taken literally, have long since been “outlawed” by science. There are still certainly many “objects of wonder” in the universe but science regards them as just not yet explained. Rejecting supernatural causes, science regards them as susceptible eventually to explanation as our knowledge of the universe grows.
There is, as well, a looser definition of miracle, that of the unexplained and unaccountable that just seems to happen through grace, serendipity or the surprising power of love and good will. This kind of “miracle” occurs when good things that don’t need to happen do happen, when people do kind and loving things they don’t need to do for people they don’t even know, when people sacrifice their own time, talent and treasure for causes that might not personally benefit them in the least. This is the kind of “miracle” I have in mind when I say that every Unitarian Universalist congregation is an ongoing miracle.
Unitarian Universalism holds out no promise of supernatural rewards for believing and belonging; we hold out no threat of supernatural punishment for not believing and belonging. We offer next to no answers to the questions of the religious quest, or perhaps, a bewildering variety of different answers. In any case, those looking for theological certainty will not find it in our churches.
We cherish personal and congregational independence so highly that it’s often difficult to agree on much of anything or financially to support our regional and national organizations. Some of our historic congregations in this area feel the weight of their heritage so heavily it’s hard for them to acknowledge changes that have occurred since the 17th Century; some of our newest congregations out west think they invented the whole movement 30 years ago.
So why, given all that openness and uncertainty, do so many nonetheless give up their Sunday mornings, often the only free day of the week, to come to church? Why do so many give of their time, talent and treasure to an enterprise that does not always reflect their particular beliefs, or perhaps, evinces more belief than they care to espouse? By the expected and normal standards of explanation, we should probably all be found sleeping late on Sunday, or holding on to our precious free time with family and friends instead of going to one more evening meeting. By those standards we should not be handing over substantial amounts of money to an institution that pays no tangible dividends and, in fact, is prone to asking for more.
Why do we do it? Personally, I call it a miracle — and leave God out of it, if you wish. I believe that there is a concatenation of grace or loving, human serendipity that moves us all, week by week, year by year, to manifest these ongoing miracles we call UU congregations. We don’t have to, we want to, we choose to. In this “season of miracles” especially I am reminded that your congregation, as all UU congregations, is an ongoing, living miracle, and for that, I humbly offer thanks.