December 2, 2019
O day of peace that dimly shines
through all our hopes and prayers and dreams,
guide us to justice, truth, and love,
delivered from our selfish schemes.
May swords of hate fall from our hands,
our hearts from envy find release,
till by God's grace our warring world
shall see Christ's promised reign of peace.
Evangelical Lutheran Worship #711]
The assigned lectionary readings for December 8, 2019, The Second Sunday of Advent, are as follows:
My wife, Linda, and I recently saw the movie
A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
, a story inspired by a true-life friendship between the late children's television show host, Fred Rogers, and journalist Tom Junod.
The standard movie reviews describe the film as a timely story of kindness triumphing over cynicism. Without giving too much away I will tell you that it definitely will tug at your heart strings. I don't consider myself an overly sentimental person, but that evening, sitting in the very last row of the darkened theater, my shirt sleeve got a workout from wiping away the tears. So, a word of advice, if you plan on seeing the film - take tissue.
In 1998, Junod, whose character is given another name in the screenplay, had been assigned to do a profile piece on Rogers for
Esquire Magazine. Thus began a life-altering friendship that lasted until Rogers' death in 2003.
Junod recently wrote a followup article for
The Atlantic in which he wonders what Mr. Rogers would say about the current sociopolitical climate in which we live.
"I often hear people say," Junod writes, "that they wish Fred were still around to offer his guidance and also that they are thankful he is gone, because at least he has been spared from seeing what we have become."
The Gospel reading for this coming Second Sunday of Advent introduces us to John the Baptist. John the Baptist was no Fred Rogers.
Fred Rogers was everybody's friend. John the Baptist, on the other hand, expresses almost nothing but disdain for the society in which he lived. From his dress, his diet, his lifestyle, and speech, he appeared to despise nearly everything and everyone. However, he saved his harshest condemnation for the Pharisees and Sadducees who were coming to him for baptism.
"You brood of vipers," he said to them! "Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire." [Matthew 3:7-10]
Despite the drastic difference in personalities, there's a striking similarity of purpose. Both Mr. Rogers and John the Baptist wanted what was best for the people whom they encountered. One appealed to our better angels, the other warned of consequences for our actions. In either case, they both proposed change; a transformation, if you will. John calls it repentance.
Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister, so it is safe to assume that he read the story of John the Baptist many times and perhaps, even came to the conscious decision that he would try a different approach. This is obviously speculation on my part.
I would also speculate that movies like A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood are box office successes, especially during this time of the year, because we are aware that our world and our society are far from perfect. Since people will obviously sooner go to theaters than to church, the message of repentance may be more effectively transmitted through the screen rather than from the pulpit.
We are people created and loved by God, and claimed for God's divine purpose at our baptism. Yet we have distanced ourselves so far from God, which is why we need constant reminders.
During this season of Advent, as we prepare once again for the coming of the Christ child, who came to bring peace on earth and good will to all, we pray that God will use the enduring image of a Fred Rogers to hold up a mirror to ourselves and help mend the breakdown in our relationship with God and with each other; that peace may dwell in our hearts and the earth be filled with God's glory.
This Saturday, December 7, at 10:30 a.m., I will preach and preside at a memorial service for the late Rev. Dr. Larry Hough, who died on November 23. Larry was a colleague and a friend. As I was beginning my ministry in Canton, he served at Martin Luther Lutheran Church, where I had the privilege of filling in for him on occasion. Many in Canton will also remember him as the voice that came into your homes every Sunday morning at 7:30, by way of the radio program, "Conversations," on WHBC.
The service will be at Trinity Lutheran Church in Vermilion, Ohio, Larry's home congregation.
This week and always, may the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. [Romans 15:5-6]
+Bishop Abraham Allende