So why are there two sermons posted for Advent 4?
At St. John's we have a worship service on Saturday evening and then another on Sunday morning. Both are services with Holy Eucharist, though our Saturday evening service is a more contemplative spoken word service without music and Sunday morning has hymns and a choir. I usually preach basically the same sermon at each of these services. But this week was different.
Throughout Advent I have lamented that I had not even mentioned St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra. On the day that was closest to his feast Day (December 6) we had our annual meeting plus it was the first Sunday of Advent. It just seemed that too much was going on and the feast day was a little too far removed for it to make sense. We also have our annual vestry retreat in December…so one excuse led to another and nary a mention of good St. Nick.
My original intentions back in November were good: I had discovered the sewing and creative talents of parishioner Donna Cook and she and I had conspired to find a pattern, purchase the fabric for vestments for the good Bishop and I had even ordered a beard and a wig. I even asked Chris Rhodes, who had magnificently portrayed St. John the Apostle and Evangelist for us a few years ago if he would step into the role of St. Nicholas. He agreed as long as I wrote the script. But things kept getting in the way and I wondered if perhaps waiting until next year would be a better option.
Somewhere along the way liturgical insanity overtook me and I decided we needed to do it and in order to surprise the congregation (and not interrupt the contemplative nature of Saturday evening) I would need to preach two different sermons. So I wrote a script (which you can read here as my sermon--though most of it was delivered by an amazing Bishop of Myra!), gave it to Chris on Tuesday (yes, that would be the Tuesday just prior to the Sunday) when he came to be fitted with the fine vestments that Donna had created.
All I can say is God is good. Very, very good. Chris did a magnificent job. The congregation was stunned and delighted and the children stood with mouths wide open for much of the sermon. It was such a joyful morning and I feel immensely grateful to serve with such willing and gifted people.
So kick back and enjoy a few words from St. Nicholas. I am immensely indebted to several resources for the script inspiration. First is the St. Nicholas Center. They have a plethora of resources. Check them out at: http://www.stnicholascenter.org/
Secondly, I have a very old copy of a very old children's book called SIX O'CLOCK SAINTS. I first heard of this book in the movie MILLIONS (definitely recommend that for your Christmas viewing) and tracked down a copy. I also used HOLY WOMEN, HOLY MEN from Church Publishing.
A KNOCK AT THE DOOR
JEANNE MOVES TO THE PULPIT AS USUAL AND BEGINS HER SERMON:
Here we are at the end--well, almost the end of the season of Advent.
We started with being told to stay awake,
to get ready.
The next Sunday we heard prepare.
Prepare the way.
Make the paths straight.
Last week we were told to go and tell.
John the Baptist was sitting in prison and could not help but wonder,
maybe even doubt,
if Jesus was the true Messiah.
And Jesus told the disciples
Go and tell John what you have seen and what you have heard.
Go and tell John that the news is good indeed.
Now we arrive at Advent 4.
We have lighted three purple candles and one rose colored candle.
On Christmas Eve we will light the white candle in the Center.
We know we are getting close to Christmas.
Today we hear in Matthew’s Gospel
that Joseph is about to walk out on his fiance Mary.
She’s going to have a baby
and he doesn’t think it is his baby.
But before Joseph can completely shun Mary,
as he intends to do,
he has a dream.
And in the dream an angel comes
and tells him
that Mary will bear a son and they will name him Jesus,
God is with us.
And Joseph knows that he will not leave Mary.
He will not abandon her or this baby who soon will be born.
He awakes from the dream
and everything changes.
Joseph listens to that dream
and bravely steps forward into fatherhood.
(At this point, St. Nicholas enters but is behind me--the congregation sees him but I act as if I am unaware of his presence. He goes and sits down in the Bishop’s chair)
We have much to learn from Joseph
and from our dreams.
You seem happy about that.
(Turns to see St. Nicholas)
Why...why, aren’t you Nicholas, Bishop of Myra!??
What are you doing here at St. John’s?!!
St. Nicholas comes up to the pulpit--and speaks.
Do you mind?
Jeanne moves aside so that Nicholas can come to the pulpit.
I am indeed Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.
You might know me better as Saint Nicholas.
Some even call me Kris Kringle or Santa Claus
but my true name is Nicholas.
I have travelled a long long distance to be with you.
I want to sit down and rest my weary feet.
After all, I am 1,713 years old!
But before I sit down for a rest
let me say a few things to you.
You may be wondering where I came from.
I am from a small village called Patara.
It’s in an area you today would call Turkey.
I was born in the year 300.
That’s a very long time ago
My parents were very devout Christians.
They had heard the story of Jesus
and they told me those stories when I was growing up
and they taught me to follow in his footsteps.
Sadly my parents died when I was very young.
Yes that was sad.
But there was an up side!
They left me with quite a bit of money!
I was fortunate to be very very wealthy.
But I kept thinking about all the stories about Jesus
and how he encouraged people to sell what they had
and give the money to the poor.
How Jesus said to care for the poor and the oppressed,
for the children and for the widows.
So I did just that.
I tried to use my wealth to help those who were sick
and those who were suffering,
those who were being mistreated
and those who were lonely.
I dedicated my life to the Church--
and eventually they made me a bishop.
Bishop of Myra.
BUT BISHOP, WHY ARE YOU HERE? IT”S THE END OF ADVENT
AND YOUR FEAST DAY WAS WAY BACK ON DECEMBER 6th.
Indeed it was!
And I don’t remember you saying one word about my feast day!!
But we had our annual meeting that day and it was the very first Sunday of Advent.
Not one word.
I have a feast day only once a year
and I don’t even get a mention.
I wasn’t even the Episcopal Moment that day!
I AM SORRY.
To err is human, to forgive, divine.
Don’t worry, be happy!
I just decided that today was a fine day
to come to St. John’s for a visit.
You know i heard that gospel reading today.
About Joseph and the dream.
And I know there are some dreamers in this congregation--
Hi Rose! (He gives a little wave towards Rose Wilkerson who leads the dream group at St. John's).
The truth is God spoke to me through dreams also.
And I always tried to pay attention.
Once I was traveling
and in a dream I saw three young students
who had been murdered and stuffed into a pickling barrel.
I know, I know, that’s rather gruesome
but dreams can be gruesome.
When I woke up I called the innkeeper
and together we prayed.
And do you know what happened?
There really were three boys who had been murdered
and stuffed into a pickling barrel
and they came back to life and were completely whole.
That’s how the church made me the saint who protects students and children.
Another time I was traveling to the Holy Land
and we were crossing over the Mediterranean Sea
and a great storm came up.
the wind blew and the waves were enormous.
And I prayed to Jesus
to still the waters
and the storm stopped.
That’s how the church made me the protector of sailors
and all the people who travel on the seas.
You know we didn’t have as many saints back in the year 300
as you do now--so we had to do double duty some time!
But my favorite story of all,
the one which probably people know me the best for,
is about three little girls.
They were so poor.
Their mother had died and they lived with their father.
When they grew older and could be married
their father had do money for dowries
(and in those days--no dowry, no marriage!)
so the father was going to have to sell his daughters into slavery.
I did not like this one bit.
So one night,
when the moon was full,
I approached their house
and in my pocket I had three bags of gold coins.
Now I listened at the door
and I did not hear a sound
so I knew they were all asleep.
So I opened the door quietly
and slipped inside the house.
I know today I would be arrested for breaking and entering
but things were different back in 300.
We didn’t even have locks on the doors of our homes.
Oh--and just to be clear,
I never went down any chimneys!
What kind of fool would go down a chimney???!
Especially when you could just walk right in the front door!!?
So I slipped quietly into the house
and the girls had washed and hung up their stockings to dry.
over the fireplace.
I slipped a bag of gold coins into the stockings--
one bag of gold for each of the daughters.
And then I slipped away.
When they woke up they were so amazed!
They ran through the streets shouting,
“It’s a miracle! It’s a miracle!”
My three bags of gold brought freedom from oppression and poverty
And for this the Church made me--
yes, yes, the protector of young women and young brides.
The real truth is that my stories would not have happened
had it not been for the story of Jesus.
A story which is leading us to Bethlehem
for the birth of a child.
A story which leads us every day to be generous
and loving and kind.
In just a few days
you will all come back and gather here
for the story of a baby born in a manger.
A baby who came to transform us all.
I just did not think it was fitting to leave the season of Advent
without even one mention
St. Nicholas, Bishop of Myra.
So I just thought I might as well stop by
and tell you my story myself.
I must be on my way now.
There is much to be done.
Christmas is coming!
I hope you are all staying to help decorate the church after the service today.
Advent is a beautiful season
but we are nearing the time
when we need to deck the halls!
So as good Episcopalians we cannot say--
MOUTHS THE WORDS “Merry Christmas”--
so I will just say.
Advent blessings to you all!
And pay attention to your dreams!
ST. NICHOLAS LEAVES giving out gold coins (chocolate) as he leaves.