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Mr. Dickins’ Holiday

A sermon preached by The Rev. John H. Nichols on the Third Sunday in Advent, December 14, 2014

In 1843 Charles Dickens published a short novel that could have ruined him and sent his family into poverty. He paid for the full cost of publication. Even his publishers no longer had any confidence in the manuscript, because he is writing a Christmas story about death and ghosts, haunting, poverty and despair? It was called “A Christmas Carol.”

There was not a large market for Christmas stories to begin with. Christmas was not a major holiday in the 1840s. It was not a holiday at all for the poor. Rich people used it an excuse for a sort of high-class orgy. But when Ebenezer Scrooge reluctantly gives his clerk, Bob Cratchit, the day off to celebrate Christmas, and Scrooge grumbles Cratchit is robbing him of that day’s pay, he is not alone in that attitude. Many middle and working class people in England felt or had been treated the same way. Scrooge also spoke for many people when he called Christmas a “Humbug.”
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What About Jesus?

a sermon preached by the Rev. John H. Nichols on the Second Sunday in Advent, December 7, 2014

Once there was a minister who thought very highly of his “children’s sermons.” Every Sunday he gathered the children before him and began with a few questions that were designed to elicit cute answers – but in the end his message always always was that they should have a closer relationship to Jesus.

Jesus was the bottom line for every one of their minister’s stories. And the children had their own strategy for getting to this bottom line as quickly as possible. They informally designated Timothy to raise his hand and answer all of the minister’s questions for them.

One Sunday when this minister gathered the children at his feet, he asked them, “Now children. What is small, furry, has a long tail, gathers nuts in the fall and jumps from tree to tree.” The children looked genuinely confused but then all eyes moved to Timothy. He reluctantly and dutifully raised his hand. He said, “Well, it sounds like a squirrel, but I guess it must be Jesus?”
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The Atmosphere We Share

a sermon preached by the Rev. John H. Nichols on the First Sunday in Advent, November 30, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.

There is a Cape Cod restaurant I particularly enjoy and when I am in the area I frequently stop in. I’ve been going there often enough that some of the servers greet me by name. A glass of my favorite wine rushes to my table and often it gets there before I do. I look forward to being recognized there.

I enjoy the ritual. And to show my appreciation I leave a generous tip. It has occurred to me that my generous tip and my warm reception may be related to each other. I don’t care. It means a great deal to me to be treated with courtesy. I think it means a great deal to most of us.

When I needed gasoline in the Wellesley area, I drove to one particular gas station in Needham. I could get cheaper gas out on Route 9, but then the only human being I would deal with would be some kid in a glass cage who took my money in on a tray and then, without speaking, pushes my change back out.
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For Life that Enfolds Us

a homily preached by Reverend John H. Nichols on Sunday, November 23, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.

Once there was a woman who was determined to cheer up her life by creating the perfect holiday season for herself and others. She went about it with a vengeance as she was determined to do everything by the book. First she held a lavish Thanksgiving Dinner for twenty members of her family. Some family members were even a little surprised to have been invited, but they came and everyone had a tolerably good time.

Then she started on Christmas. She began early by making all of her own decorations. She planned and carried out an elegant dinner party, hand lettering the invitations, the menu, and cooking a magnificent meal for twenty-five people. She personally decorated all of the ornaments on her large tree. She organized a carol sing for all of her non-religious friends. She carefully selected and sent off gifts to fifteen of her closest relatives. It was just by the book. It was going so well. She kept thinking, “I must really be getting the holiday spirit!”
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How to Raise Sturdy Enough Children and Grandchildren

a sermon given by the Rev. John H. Nichols on Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Earl of Rochester once said, “Before I got married I had six theories about raising children. Now I have six children and no theories.” John Mason Brown once affirmed “Reasoning with a child is fine as long as you can reach the child’s reason without destroying your own.” And an unknown philosopher once commented, “Heredity is what a parent believes in absolutely until his/her child begins to behave like an idiot.” Raising children is a humbling topic for everyone.

Anyone who dares speak of it needs to establish some credentials first. Here are mine. My wife and I, together, raised two children who are now adults, and we have five grandchildren. To the best of our knowledge, none of our children or grandchildren is a serial axe murderer yet. None is a mass murderer of any kind. They are not perfect or even nearly perfect, but they are sturdy enough for the lives they lead, which make my credentials on sturdiness as good as any and we all have very modest credentials.
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For All the Saints

A sermon preached by the Reverend John H. Nichols on Communion Sunday , November 2, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.

Albert Schweitzer reflects on how “so many people gave me something or were something to me without knowing it.” And then he suggests, “If we had before us those who had thus been a blessing to us, and could tell them how it came about, they would be amazed to learn what passed over from their life into ours.”

Much of my life has been inspired by gifts that were passed on to me by people who could not have known how important their gift would be. I suspect the same may be true for many of you.
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Tipping the Balance

A sermon preached by the Reverend John H. Nichols on Sunday, October 26, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.

When we get up in the morning most of us want a comfortable, safe, predictable way to get through the day. This is a staple of human nature. We seek a place for ourselves that feels familiar. We were not born for revolution or even to stop revolutions. And so, when we look back at something like the rise of the Nazis – and we ask ourselves “Why didn’t they see it coming?” — the answer is that at one level they did see it coming, but they did not want to know what they saw. They didn’t want to change their lives, to take the risks involved in stopping it. And indeed the risks were potentially fatal.

This leads psychologists and clergy to wonder, “What changes our minds and moves us to action?” What challenges our prevailing view of the world, what penetrates our overwhelming desire for security and then causes us to alter our behavior to do something differently?
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Why Religion is Funny

a sermon preached by the Reverend John H. Nichols on Sunday October 19, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.

Once long ago, a rabbi wrote a book about the tragic death of his young son. Many read it and loved it and they told their friends, “You have to read, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.” But that was not the title of the book. “Why bad things happen” is what all of us ask. It is the question that motivates people to join churches. Some religions do offer answers, but most traditions believe that final answers are not given to anyone.

Rabbi Harold Kushner did not try to answer that question either. His first book was actually titled, When Bad Things Happen to Good People. But we remember the words, “Why” instead of “When” because the “Why” question is closest to our spiritual pulse.
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Taking Time Seriously

A sermon preached by the Reverend John H. Nichols on Sunday, October 12, 2014

To listen to this sermon please click here.

Could you take off your watch and put it out of sight for an hour? Could you even leave your watch at home for a couple of hours? For an entire day? Could you put your watch in the drawer for a week? There’s a daunting thought. And an irresponsible thought. One of the things many of us pride ourselves on is that there are people who depend upon us to know what time it is so that we can be where they want us to be and keep our commitments to them.

On the other hand, if we carry the time around with us only to meet schedules that are not entirely of our own making, how likely is it that the pace of our lives is set by other people? How much of each day that we are granted to live is lived on a timetable that we did not create or even control? Where does it say, on our calendars, “This time is for me? Or are these mechanical devices on our wrists really symbols of servitude in which we cooperate?
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