Holidays are a time to ...

Our stories reflect one another. We could take this holiday season to discover that fact. That way, we can love better - more respectfully, more naturally. We can be the best of friends.

It was Second Advent, a chilly morning, and just about two weeks from both Hanukkah and Christmas. I drove to Cornelius to meet with Inclusion Community, a small and loving United Methodist congregation. The plan was simple enough; I was to talk about Hanukkah.

I was lucky to be invited by the Rev. Dr. Susan Heafner-Heun, who was willing to let me try and make the point that Hanukkah and Christmas tell a similar story.

Oppression and hiding. Fear and escape. Hope - for freedom, for grace, for God's presence.

Consider the star in the night. Tiny, delicate candle flames. Both, God's eternal light.

We began in a circle, introducing ourselves, smiling in greeting, blessing each other with peace. We read a poem about the gift of light and love and hope that is the real gift of Christmas.

I re-read it when it was time for me to speak, and I replaced every "Christmas" with "Hanukkah." The best gift of Hanukah would be the gift of light and love and hope, after all.

I spoke about the pain in the Hanukkah story, too. Imagine someone breaking into your church, destroying and running amok. Imagine your sacred things shattered, desecrated, despoiled. It happened. It happens.

How exhausting is it to clean up hate? Surrounded by darkness, how are we to rediscover God's eternal light?

The story goes that the ner tamid, the eternal light of the Temple, had been put out by those who despoiled the Jerusalem Temple.

Trembling hands lit the ner tamid again. There is only oil for one day.

How many days would it take to find such oil again in a shattered and war-torn city?

They waited for the light to go out that first day. The second day. The third. On and on it burned, so the story tells us, with miraculous sustaining force. Eight days long.

Hanukkah means rededication. During its eight days, Jews rededicate our spirit, our hope, our longing for light in the darkness.

My Christian friends nodded as I spoke. We talked about the shadow side of Hanukkah, too. How does one contend with the story's narrative? To rededicate the Temple, Jews had to go to war.

Talmud tells us to take a life is to take the life of the world.

When is it right to battle for light? Are we aware what dangers we embrace when we conclude that war is the only way to free ourselves?

These are not easy questions. Our stories are not simple ones.

But I was with a community whose leader loves to ask questions. Doing so, writes Pastor Heafner-Heun, "never made me question my faith. It was the way I best journeyed with God."

May we ask questions of ourselves - and each other. May this season help us to ask them gently, lovingly.

May we acknowledge that our stories tell tales of hope and love, no matter our tradition, and that we share the light of the season, because it is given to all of us.