The Second Sunday of Advent
Watch the sermon here.
Besides being a sap for Hallmark Holiday movies, one of my favorite Christmas films is The Bishop’s Wife.
It’s the story of a suave angel named Dudley played by Cary Grant who comes to earth to save a woman, Loretta Young, and her Episcopal Bishop husband, David Niven, from spiritual doubt and a lack of love for life itself.
The movie premiered here in New York City on December 9, 1947.
Everyone is charmed by Angel Dudley, even a non-religious professor played by Monty Woodley.
Everyone that is but Henry, the Bishop.
He’s too obsessed with building a grand Cathedral, to the detriment of his family and other relationships. He seems to have lost the true purpose and meaning of life, a life lived in Christian community.
Now it may seem odd to begin this Advent 2 sermon with a Christmas movie. We need to focus on anticipating Christmas, John the Baptist, and repentance.
And it may seem odder to also throw a Christmas carol into the mix, but here goes.
One of my favorites is “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem.”
The third verse always grabs me.
“How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts, the blessing of his heaven.
No ear may hear His coming
But in this world of sin
Where meek souls will receive him still
The dear Christ enters in.”
Let’s take these words in for a moment.
Silently, the wondrous gift is given, – given to me, to you, to all the beloved community.
God imparts to us – His heaven, – the gift of stewardship.
No ear may hear – we are often all too deaf or fearful of the darkness, there is too much sin, too much disbelief, too much clatter that obscures the gift.
But in this world of darkness – the dear Christ enters in.
The film The Bishop’s Wife, and these beautiful Christmas lyrics, aren’t in conflict with the message of the Baptist, the iconic figure of this Advent season.
John’s a persuasive presence throughout Advent, isn’t he?
Not as suave perhaps as Cary Grant, I mean Dudley, and not as eloquent as the lyrical message of the hymn, but as persistent in message – if not charming in his own way.
Venture into the darkness, into the wilderness, John bids, recognize the work to be done, and as good stewards of the light, let’s build God’s reign.
“Prepare the way of the Lord. Make straight his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
This is a particularly important message for us this year.
Let’s stand ready to discern what we’ve learned from our own wilderness experiences of this pandemic time, /reflect on our relationship with God, /and how we can be courageous together to respond to the darkness with light.
For God is often found in these wilderness experiences, hope is often born in places of despair, and as Christians we believe that light will surely brighten the darkness.
Yet it’s so easy to lose hope, isn’t it? Life in the wilderness persists, there are many new variants of all the ills that plague us.
Hatred persists, inequality of wealth thrives, a lack of regard for the common good presses on about us, all challenging our awareness of God’s presence and our own capacity to respond to God’s people with compassion and mercy
The path appears anything less than straight, the obstacles insurmountable, and glimpses of God’s heaven seem fewer and fewer.
I often find myself asking, “Where is God?” “Where Is there hope amidst all of the despair?
This Advent, my friends, is an opportunity for silence and prayer.
A time to set aside more time to reflect on what we’ve learned from life in this pandemic, to understand what draws us away from God, so we can unwrap the true gifts that surround us, to find the light that permeates this darkness.
It all begins here, in Advent.
It begins with embracing our faith, with a real desire to live as beacons of God’s hope in a world that so desperately needs us.
John baptized as he prepared people for Christ. Our Baptism claimed us as Christ’s own forever. Set us apart – to let the Spirit work within us, to make the old – new, to transform a dying world by breathing new life into it.
It starts with our willingness to do the hard work.
To make the spiritual journey, to listen for God’s call, to hear and be ready to respond to the injustice, the inequality, the hatred, the lack of fraternity with all that we can muster.
Only then will we be ready to give prophetic voice to a vision of a new world, transformed by the dear Christ entering in through the incarnation of His love through us.
We need to be a Christian people of transformation, to lead a life of faith driven by integrity, purpose, meaning.
It matters less who we claim to be, for claims can be empty ones, if we fail to act on our vision.
What matters is who we are, what we say, what we do.
Although fraught with persistent challenge and disappointment, our faith assures us, even with our earthly longings and ideals shaken to their core, light can pervade the darkness, transformation can happen. It all begins with our belief and our own willingness to act.
Are we willing to discern God’s call?
Are we open to a change of mind, a change of heart, and a change of direction?
Are we ready to reorder our choices, are we willing to make straight God’s path?
Nicholas whose feast we celebrate this day was known as a “wonderworker,” a bearer of secret gifts, to people in places where they were most needed.
Are we ready to be “wonderworkers” and to present our gifts?
In the film, The Bishop’s Wife, Dudley the Angel, rights the Bishop’s course, helps him to find true meaning and purpose. He also gifts him with this sermon Henry delivers on Christmas Eve.
“Tonight, I want to tell you the story of an empty stocking.
Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.
But especially with gifts. You give me a book; I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer, and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t let us forget that.
Let us ask ourselves what HE would wish for most.
And then, let each put in his share, loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched-out hand of tolerance.
All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.”
This Advent are we prepared to hang and to fill the Christ Child’s stocking now and throughout the days to come?
For, “Where meek souls will receive him still – the dear Christ enters in – through me, through you, through us.”