Well, like many of you, when I was a boy growing up in the church, I learned about heaven and hell, about how good people went to heaven, and bad people went to hell.
Well, the Christmas season officially comes to a close this Wednesday, January 6, the 12th Day of Christmas, which is also known as the Epiphany, or the Feast of the Three Kings. It's the day in which we celebrate the Magi of seeing the Star of Wonder in the night sky, and allowing it to guide them to the location of the Christ.
Happy third day of Christmas! Did you know it was the third day of Christmas? Many people mistakenly think that the 12 Days of Christmas are the 12 days leading up to Christmas. But actually, they are the days between Christmas and Epiphany, which we will celebrate next Sunday. So even though Christmas Day has already come and gone, we are still in the midst of the 12 Days of Christmas. We're still in the middle of the Christmas season, still singing Christmas carols and enjoying the beautiful decorations.
Well, here we are in the week leading up to Christmas. And I don't think I'm going to burst anyone's bubble by telling you that Jesus probably wasn't born on December 25. In fact, most theologians have absolutely no idea when Jesus was actually born. The Christian church decided on the date of December 25 almost 400 years after Jesus died. And they did so because it coincided with a Roman pagan festival called Natalis Solis, which was a celebration of the birth of the SUN. The early Christian church usurped this pagan festival of light, this celebration of the birth of the sun, and they remade it into a religious festival, celebrating the light of the world and the birth of the SON.
We're still waiting to learn who will be announced as Time Magazine's "Person of the Year" for 2020. But you may remember that last year's Person of the Year was Greta Thuneberg, the 16-year-old environmental activist who's inspiring millions of people around the globe to take action against climate change.
Last year at this time, the United Church of Christ produce these yard signs, which we put out in the front of our church last year. The sign reads, "This year, we remember that Jesus was a refugee." And that is the truth. Jesus was a refugee. Though I know a lot of people don't want to hear that, especially this time of year. We want to spend the weeks leading up to Christmas thinking about happier things.
Many of you know that I wrote a book this past year, called Childish Thinking, in which I try to get us to grow in our understanding of the Bible. So today on the first Sunday of Advent, I'd like us to look at the Season of Advent from a higher perspective...
Well today on the last Sunday in Ordinary Time, we are celebrating a feast day on the church calendar. The church calendar that we follow each and every week was established that the Council of Nicea all the way back in the year 325 ad. So it's almost 1,700 years old. The calendar established the dates for Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter, and various feast days, like Epiphany, Pentecost, and Palm Sunday.
Our Gospel reading for today is known as Jesus's Parable of the Talents. This is where we get our word 'talent" today, from this Bible story. Back in Jesus's day, a talent was a large sum of money. A talent was equivalent to around $1,000 today.
Well, we gather here each and every Sunday, to express our gratitude to God, and to hear the teachings of Jesus so that we may more fully follow in his steps and in his way of life. Regardless of any temporary situations we may be going through in our nation, or in our world, the teachings of Jesus remain constant and eternal. And that is why these teachings have endured. More than 2000 years later, they are still relevant in our lives today.
Well, as I mentioned at the top of the service, today we are celebrating All Saints Day. It's a day for us to honor and to celebrate all of our loved ones who have died, and to remember that their light is still with us. All Saints Day therefore is not a day of mourning and sadness. It's a day of celebration.
Well, today I am going to start off my homily with a little bit of show and tell. (Pastor Sal shows framed sign.) This sign hangs across the street in the living room of our church's Retreat House. It was gifted to us several years ago by one of our church members, Barb Lucier. This beautiful sign tells us the golden rule in all of the world's major faith traditions.
Today we are focusing on the UCC's, "Our Faith, our Vote, our Voice" campaign. Now this campaign is not about endorsing or opposing a certain political candidate or political party. We are not allowed to do that. Our founding fathers were very clear about the separation of church and state. That's why I'm so surprised to see several well known evangelical pastors openly endorsing one political candidate and opposing a certain political party, right from the pulpits of their own churches. We are not allowed to do that as churches. That is against the law.
.A few years ago, I attended a Steven Ministry leadership convention in Pittsburgh with two of our church members, Tim Schwartz and Paul Burdick. And at that convention, there were more than 300 people from more than 80 different Christian denominations. I didn't even know there were that many Christian denominations, did you? And even though all of us at the convention were Christian, we were all so very different.
Many of you know, last summer, Greg and I said a tearful goodbye to our beloved cat, Oscar. And although it's been more than year now, we are still grieving. Oscar was so very special to us. In many ways, he was like our child. In fact, we referred to him as our son.
Now, we have memorial services here in the church when our human loved ones die, and that gives us an opportunity to publicly honor and to celebrate their lives -- to eulogize them, to share stories and photos and memories of them. And that helps to provide us with a little bit of closure. And so I wonder why more of us don't have memorial services when our animal children die.
Well last year at this time, our church's amazing Creation Justice Team led us on a cleanup of Douglas Beach and Oval Beach here in Saugatuck. And on that day, we collected more than 100 pounds of trash from the beach.
And last year, we here at the church received these buttons from the United Church of Christ, which read ‘Water is Life, Protect the Sacred.’ And that is the truth. Water is life. Plants and animals and humans -- all living things -- are dependent upon water for life. We can go for a few weeks without food, but without water, we will die in just a few days.
Well, as you can see from this beautiful banner behind me, we are celebrating God's creation this month at Douglas UCC. And today we are focusing on the theme of ‘forest wilderness.’
The dictionary describes the word ‘wilderness’ as a tract or region, uncultivated, and uninhabited by humans, an area essentially undisturbed by human activity. And so the "wilderness" describes those places in creation where humans have had very little presence, or minimal impact. They are those places which remain, for the most part, just as God created them -- uncultivated, uninhabited, undisturbed.