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A Christmas Story

Bishop Paul's Christmas Message 2012

Bob Hope's Christmas Show for Pacifists
Bishop Paul Marshall, Dec. 24, 2012

Mr Hope was a faithful Catholic and I am sure would approve of the use I make of his reputation.

Nobody on the planet ever put as much energy into entertaining our troops as did Bob Hope. For almost 60 years he flew into danger zones to boost the morale of those serving their country. His first such appearance, in 1943, featured a cast of three, and had no opening acts as we might think of them.

I have often tried to imagine what it was like for those troops, over those six decades, to have had no word of encouragement or contact with home for months or more, and then see Hope's company coming in. If anyone ever had an appropriate surname, it was Bob.The closest hints I get are in the First lesson and the Gospel.

This all comes to mind because of the battle noises that are silenced for ever in the first lesson for Christmas Eve (Is 9:2-7) when the prophet interrupts, rather than entertains, the royal court. All the fighting is to stop because light has broken through. The child comes to do much more (but not less) than comfort the troops: he comes to end the conflict. "The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this." Kings in those days adopted "programmatic names," names that were their platform. Here is a king who adopts one of wonderful counsellor ruling in God's peace.
After psalm and second lesson, the scene shifts, doesn't it, to an even more amazing show of light and sounds. Dirt-poor, ritually unclean, and general nobodies, certain shepherds on the late night shift were brought terror, joy, and hope by a great company of angels. These messengers gave glory to God and offered God's peace to humanity.

But the troop of shepherds weren't just entertained by the spectacle; they were engaged, and they responded. They got up and went as fast as they could to find the child, Mary and Joseph. And they, too, praised God.

Morale in our country is not very high for a number of reasons, some of them tragic. Christmas this year invites us to make a special effort to be where we can hear the angels, worship the child, and like the shepherds, make known to all what they had seen and heard. Jesus the Savior is here, at all times and in all places. Each one of us knows someone who needs to know that.

If that someone is us, we know what to do. Those celebrating family will probably end up at a late afternoon or early evening service tomorrow; for me, this is always the time of sheer and holy fun. The midnight liturgy offers us more of a chance to enter the mystery and adore the One who is come among us and gives permission to the part of us that seeks a deeper relationship with God. For those for whom this has been a hard year, perhaps this is the time to try the relative quiet of a Christmas morning liturgy, with the entirely unsentimental but inexhaustibly inspiring words from John's Gospel.

Since this is the first Christmas Eve in 65 years where I shall be alone (but fear not: I will drive up to be with the family already up in CT after Christmas morning liturgy). I am going to use all that quiet to listen to the Christmas portion of Messiah, then the first part of Bach's Christmas Oratorio,

And because in the long run I am really just an old softie, will listen to Paul Scofield reading "A Christmas Carol," and if there is time, watch Jean Shepherd's "Christmas Story," "Miracle on 34th Street," "It's a Wonderful Life" and an old Twilight Zone episode called "Carol for another Christmas."  I might even watch Bill Murray in "Scrooged." [I sometimes watch Nat Lamp "Christmas Vacation," but will not admit it here.] You have your own playlist--there is no better time to access it than when doing your final preparations and, for me at least, in the quiet between the services.

Sadly, Bob Hope is no longer with us, but Christ always is, and we can but hope that wars will one day cease in Jesus' homeland and throughout the earth. Jesus  is still with us, offering peace for our hearts and joy for all the world. May your Christmas be filled with the light that is the life of us all.

May 2013 bring each of us many opportunities to offer peace as the angels did, and amaze others with our testimony as did the shepherds who first saw the spectacle coming from the sky. God bless you and all of those you love.


(PS the sermons at Nativity tomorrow are about something completely different)

(PPS This begins very internet service on my end until Friday, as I shall be frolicking with Madeleine on Tues-through Thurs, who went to her first Christmas party brunch today without me to protect her)

Is 9:2-7
2 The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined.

3 Thou hast multiplied the nation, and increased the joy: they joy before thee according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.

4 For thou hast broken the yoke of his burden, and the staff of his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, as in the day of Midian.

5 For every battle of the warrior is with confused noise, and garments rolled in blood; but this shall be with burning and fuel of fire.

6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.


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