Sacred Activism in Dark Time: Fireflies of Light before Dawn's Transformation

We are living in the midst of the Christian season of Advent, four weeks of candle-lighting, welcome, hope, and expectation before Christmas. And we are looking toward the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, lighting a growing glow of light in the teeth of darkness.

I want to share some new approaches to those festivals. One for Advent has been shaped by Rev. Nancy Taylor, the Senior Minister of Old South Church In Boston (the Church that birthed the Boston Tea Party of resistance to the British Empire and its unjust taxes).  The other comes from The Shalom Center for the candles of Hanukkah and Shabbat and for any festival when candles are kindled –- among them, Advent.

These liturgies recognize the rhythms of natural and political change. They recognize that in the Northern Hemisphere we are living in a season of Earth’s darkness when underground, in the dark, seeds of new life, new light, are  preparing to burst forth. And we are living in a season of our country’s and our planet’s moral darkness, when those in power are cruelly wounding children, our elders, the poor, working families, women, Muslims, Blacks, immigrants, refugees, the sick, even Mother Earth herself – all to make possible the transfer of enormous wealth to those who are already Hyper-Wealthy.

By passing a Deformed tax bill, bare majorities in both houses of Congress have responded to the demands of their Big Donors, not to the two-thirds of the American public who oppose this bill.

This is the politics that our sacred traditions know as Pharaoh and Caesar. And our traditions not only side with the Resistance to Pharaoh and Caesar, they grow directly out of the Resistance. 

Who were this Resistance? The runaway slaves who left slavery in the Tight and Narrow Land while Pharaoh’s army drowned in the Reed Sea.  The band of Jews who on the eve of Passover that recalled the fall of Pharaoh followed Jesus in the protest march of Palm Sunday against the Roman Empire, and stood with him when the Empire tortured him and killed him. The Rabbis who  despite the Roman edicts against teaching or doing Torah persisted, and who even in  their own deaths inspired a resilient Jewish community  to live in exile and weave a new kind of community that yearned for but did not need a Land.

So our sacred communities have learned to  become fireflies of light in the darkness just before the dawn.  Flickering, glimmering, growing, glowing.  Both  in liturgy and in activism are these lights lifted up.

Resistance becomes Transformation. New forms of sacred Community emerge from challenging these Empires.

Even now, at the very last moment when House and Senate have not yet worked out an agreed version of the Tax Deform, efforts are under way today and tomorrow for nonviolent direct action to challenge those Members of Congress who might possibly change their minds. Clergyfolk, including myself and my life=partner Rabbi Phyllis Berman, will join in that challenge.

And meanwhile, we offer you two approaches to kindling liturgies of light in a season of dark:

Between the Fires:

A Prayer for lighting Candles of Commitment


We are the generation that stands 

between the fires:

Behind us the flame and smoke

that rose from Auschwitz and from Hiroshima;

From the burning forests of the Amazon,

From the hottest years of human history

 that bring upon us

Melted ice fields, Flooded cities, Scorching droughts.

Before us the nightmare of a Flood of Fire,

The heat and smoke that could consume all Earth.


"Here! The day is coming

That will flame like a furnace, “

Says the Infinite YHWH / Yahhhh,

The Breath of Life --

when all the arrogant, all evil-doers,

root and branch,

will like straw be burnt to ashes.

Yet for all who revere My Interbreathing Name,

a sun of justice will arise

with healing in its wings, its rays, its winds. . .


“Here! Before the coming

of the great and awesome day

 of YHWH/ the Breath of Life,

 I will send you the Prophet Elijah

 to turn the hearts of parents to their children

and the hearts of children to their parents,

 lest I come and smite the Earth with utter destruction."

                       (Malachi 3: 20-21, 23-24.)

Here! we ourselves are coming

Before the great and terrible day

of  smiting Earth —

For we ourselves shall turn the hearts

Of parents to their children

And the hearts of children to their parents

So that this day of smiting

Does not fall upon us.


It is our task to make from fire not an all-consuming blaze

But the light in which we see each other fully.

All of us different, All of us bearing

One Spark.

We light these fires to see more clearly

That the Earth and all who live as part of it

Are not for burning.              

We light these fires to see more clearly

The rainbow in our many-colored faces.

Blessed is the ONE within the many.

Blessed are the many who make ONE.

[Optional:  Baruch attah [Adonai] [Yahhh] elohenu [melekh] [ruakh] ha’olam  asher kidshanu b’mitzvot[av], vitzivanu l’hadlik ner shel brit Eliyahu. Blessed is the Breath of Life Whu unifies all forces of creation, teaching us to become holy by connecting, breathing, with each other and as one practice of connection calls us to kindle the candles of Elijah’s covenant.]

[Brachot for Hanukkah.]

[Light candles of commitment]



Rev. Nancy Taylorhas developed a liturgy for Advent that focuses on Earth.  She writes --

We will use this for the four weeks of Advent at Old South Church in Boston (December 3-24). The opening Carol sandwiches the Call to Worship and Advent Candle Lighting. (To hear the carol, click to  < >


The clergy will preach and teach into our Advent theme, taken from the Carol’s title, ALL EARTH IS WAITING.  In the Carol (written by Spanish priest, Alberto Taule, 1932-2007), the Earth and the creatures of the Earth participate in the joyful celebration and welcome of the Christ child to the Earth. 


In our preaching and teaching we will focus on the ways the Earth and the creatures of the Earth are fully part of God’s delight and revelation; that they participate in, support, and relish God’s gift of the special child…that the Earth, and all its fullness thereof, are every bit a part of God’s redeeming work, and, indeed, kith and kin to humankind.

As a consequence, the Earth merits urgent attention, that it need be protected and defended by the very people who profess to love God and who delight in receiving the gift of Emmanuel: God with us, God with the Earth. That the Earth, no less than the (biblical) widow or orphan, the prisoner or the lame, is in need of rescue, shelter, healing, nourishment, protection and befriending.

Much of our teaching will be toward the UNLEARNING of the worst of Western Christianity which has separated the realm of Nature from the realm of History … assigning the realm of History as God’s realm (higher, more sublime than the realm of Nature, which is more or less disposable). We will challenge and attempt to unteach this. 

 We are employing our holiest (and best attended) Christian season and devoting the entirety of it to Care for Creation for Christ’s sake, to the Healing of the Earth for Christ’s sake, to exploring and presenting the biblical and theological foundations of such an urgent and consequential undertaking for Christ’s sake


For Christ’s Sake = an oath, an entreaty, a divine command. 


Thinking of you all. Grateful to G-d for you and for your wise and brave ministries in this confounding, traitorous and perilous season. 




2nd Sunday of Advent

December 10, 2017





*ADVENT CAROL                      All Earth Is Waiting                                                  Taule

All Earth is waiting to see the Promised One,

and open furrows, the sowing of our God.

All the world, bound and struggling, seeks true liberty;

It cries out for justice and searches for the truth.

Thus says the prophet to those of Israel,

“A virgin mother will bear Emmanuel”:

One whose name is “God with us”, our Savior shall be,

Through whom hope will blossom once more within our hearts.

*CALL TO WORSHIP (Isaiah 11)                                                           

One: A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
              and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

Many:    The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
       the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

 One:       the spirit of counsel and might,
       the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

Many:    The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

One: the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

Many:    The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

One: They will not hurt or destroy

on all my holy mountain;

Many:    for the Earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
       as the waters cover the sea.

One:        In the spirit of the prophet Isaiah, in the spirit of PEACE,

we light the second Advent candle.

*LIGHTING THE ADVENT CANDLE OF PEACE                        


Mountains and valleys will have to be made plain:

Open new highways, new highways for our God,

Who is now coming closer, so come all and see,

And open the doorways as wide as wide can be.

In lowly stable the Promised One appeared,

Yet feel that presence throughout the Earth today.

For Christ lives in all Christians and with us now;

Again on arriving Christ brings us liberty

*A SIGN OF OUR UNITY AND RECONCILIATION                         

We invite you to greet those around you,

wishing them “Peace”, or “the peace of Christ.”



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