7 The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:7-11, New International Version).
Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Tomorrow, congregations around the world that use Advent wreaths light the fourth candle, the “Love” candle. Traditionally, the Church has assigned these four theological necessities to the four candles on the outside of the Advent wreath. This year, possibly more than any past year, I have found myself reflecting on their meaning in current American society. Can we really say these things are our desire?
Cindy’s favorite verse in the Bible is part of the passage above. “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” I understand why she likes it so much. It’s words, however, are words easily forgotten in our polarized society.
As we have witnessed this week with the impeachment of a president on the one hand and the cries of “do nothing Democrats” on the other, it should be enough to make us all question not only the relevance of these four concepts but even their existence. Are they extinct?
For those who think I started talking about the Advent candles and now I have gone political, no, not really. But, I do remember back to one of the Presidential debates during the 2016 campaign. A citizen, a voter asked both Secretary Clinton and President Trump to say something nice, something they respected about each other. To me, it was one of the extraordinary moments of that debate for sure, and really to the entire campaign.
Secretary Clinton said she admired the now President’s family, their loyalty to one another, the way they honored their commitments and more. She said what she admired about President Trump’s family pointed to Mr. Trump himself.
President Trump said he admired Secretary Clinton’s tenacity. He said she was a fighter and she never gave up.
Before this question in the debate both candidates threw a great deal of mud at one another and this Kum-ba-ya moment didn’t last long. They were back at each other’s throats in a matter of moments. But, at least to me, it was a moment of fresh air during a time of unprecedented mire and muck by both candidates. And, three plus years later, we seem to be right back in the slop.
To me, with Christmas less than a week away, in a time when polarization is so present, not only in our politics, but in so many places in our society. We can see it on the streets, in our clubs, and even in the Church where we continue to see divisiveness on a number of issues at every level.
Is there hope? Can we find peace? Do people have joy in their lives today? Where’s the love? It seems to me that all these things are co-dependent on each other. Is there hope when there is no peace, joy, or love? Can we find peace in a world without hope, joy and love? How can we have joy if we do not also have hope, peace and love? And, if we are to believe Scripture, love really isn’t possible without the other three.
Most importantly, however, the only way any of these things become possible is through the birth of a tiny baby who would come into the world bringing all four. That fifth candle, the one in the center of the Advent Wreath, the white candle, the candle that represents Christ makes the other four possible. We have hope because of the One born of a virgin. We have peace because of the one given the name Jesus. We have joy because this baby would grow into a man who became a Savior. That Savior, Jesus Christ, gave us the ability to love, because as we are reminded in 1 John, He first loved us.
As I was writing this, I was also watching an awards show I had not even heard of before. I am not usually a person who watches award shows, EVER. When we turned the television on, it happened to be set to the station showing “The Musial Awards,” named after and honoring the late baseball great, Hall of Famer, Stan “The Man” Musial. The awards that carry his name to honor those who exemplify great sportsmanship and sacrifice.
When we first turned it on, they were telling the story Darius Kruah and Aaren Crane, two boys from different elementary schools in North Augusta, South Carolina. They were part of running clubs at the schools and competed against each other in the 100 meter sprint, assigned to lanes next to each other. Before the race the two had never met. The race started and the boys were in a virtual dead-heat for the lead when, for Aaren, the unthinkable happened. He tripped and went crashing into the track. He put his arms out in an attempt to break his fall. He ended up breaking his wrist. That isn’t the important part of this story. Darius, now, with the elimination of his closest competitor, was going to win the race. No one would catch him. Well, except for one thing. Darius, in a show of sportsman ship, sacrifice, and I would argue love, stopped, turned around, and went to check to make sure his fallen competitor was OK. He gave up his chance to win to check on another competitor who became his friend.
The Musial Awards were filled with such stories. The two runners who were both struggling and joined hands to encourage each other to finish the Pittsburgh Marathon.
There was the Forest Lake Christian School volleyball team. They were in the state tournament semi-finals and scheduled to play the girls from Paradise High School. Two days before the match, wildfires, so common in California destroyed the entire town of Paradise. The Paradise girls had lost everything, including their uniforms. No one really expected the Paradise girls to play with their entire community devastated. In a team meeting the Paradise girls decided overwhelmingly that they would play. That was when the Lake Forest girls went to work. They got donations from all over to help their competitors with what they needed. They also got Paradise new uniforms, with the girls names on the back. They got every number correct.
Then there was Henry Farsca, a nine-year-old Boston Red Sox fan. Henry got the chance to go to Fenway Park and watch his beloved Red Sox play the Baltimore Orioles. Before he went to the game Henry sat down and wrote a fan letter. It wasn’t to one of the Red Sox as we might imagine, but to Orioles’ first baseman, Chris Davis, who was in the midst of a Major League Baseball record hitting slump. In his past 54 at-bats, Davis had not gotten a hit. A term often used in baseball is “picking someone up.” That is what Farsca did for Davis. Farsca wrote a letter to Davis and gave it to the right person, who passed it on until it got to Davis right before the game began. In part it said, “The way you play baseball has nothing to do with how good a person you are. Also, you are incredible. You played in the MLB for a long time, and everyone goes through a slump. Don’t give up. We’re rooting for you.” Davis read the letter before the game, went to bat in the first inning and hit a two-run single.
Those are but a few of the stories from The Musial Awards. Should you get a chance to see them, I commend them to you. There are many heart-warming stories.
In all these stories we can see evidence of the Advent candles, of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. I have no idea of the faith of any of those involved but I do know, the One who gives Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love is in the midst of all of us, giving us all these great gifts and so much more. The One who gives us these things also gives us the tiny baby whose coming we celebrate in the days to come.
I want to leave you with a challenge and I pray it carries forward for longer than Secretary Clinton’s and President Trump’s few kind words to one another in the last election. I want you to add someone to your Christmas list. This isn’t someone you already have there. It isn’t someone that is your friend. Find a rival and do something for them. You don’t need to go buy a gift, but do something that says you see the good in them.
Jennifer Dukes Lee said, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” Such an act would be an act of kindness. It is also something of an example to our polarized society. It might even be the beginning of how we change the world.
Have a blessed day and a Holy Christmas.
Grace and Peace,
Copyright 2019, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved.