We're facing a Christmas that is different than any we have ever had. How do we walk through Advent in the midst of pandemic and division? Bishop Hughes shares the inspiration she found when she heard a new rendition of a favorite old hymn. (Time: 5:05.)
This is Bishop Hughes in the Diocese of Newark. And I want to talk with you about this time we have just entered, these four weeks, as we walk our way through Advent into Christmas. I also want to expand the way we look at this particular time, this time that is so full of worry and anticipation of how we will make people happy on Christmas. That no sooner have we had the last bite of turkey in the most unusual Thanksgiving celebrations that most of us have had, that we've started worrying about how we will handle Christmas, how will we get presents done, how will we gather, how will we celebrate at a Christmas celebration that is different than any Christmas that we have ever had. And in the midst of that we are hearing the constant news about increased infection rates and hospitalizations in northern New Jersey, and we're in that time where the pandemic is beginning to look – here it is in late November and early December – beginning to look like March and April did early this year, and none of us wants to go back to that time. How are we to walk towards the joy of Christmas, knowing that there is much for us to do spiritually, that this time is full of expectation and we are wary of disappointment and pressure that comes with it. And then there is that sense of fear, the fear of pandemic and the constant worry that we have about the division that has just set up shop and has come to stay in our country. How do we walk towards Jesus' appearance in our life, the celebration of his coming that first time and his coming time after time after time for us.
Two weeks ago at a Sunday morning visit with St. John's in Montclair, Mother Candace Sandfort's husband John Sandfort sang one of the hymns that morning. He sang by himself playing the guitar, which apparently he does quite often, and he's singing, "King of Glory, King of Peace." It's an old favorite in the Episcopal Church – it's certainly one of my favorites – but I heard it in a new way, without an organ, without a choir, without four-part harmony and a descant. I heard just the simple words the way that hymn begins: "King of glory, king of peace, I will love thee."
Gosh does that give us a different way to walk through this time. To remember that in this time part of what we do as children of God is to love God, God of glory and God of peace, God of all power, God of generosity, we love thee. To walk our way through each and every day, to walk our way through the worry, to walk our way through the sense of pressure, to walk our way through wanting to be more faithful, to walk our way looking for ways to love God through this time. Whether this time is Advent, or this time is the holidays, or this time is pandemic, or this time is division – to know that the king of glory and the king of peace loves us first and that we love God right back.
I love the beginning of the third verse of that hymn: "Seven whole days, not one in seven, I will praise thee." And I think that's another way that we can walk through this time. That if we love God and we praise God, if we find things to say thank you to God for, if we find things to just admire that God has done around us, for us, with us, through us, through the people we love to the people we don't know, the many ways that God is present in our world and in our lives.
That if we can learn to look for the king of glory and the king of peace and if we can do that seven days, every day, not just one day, not just one morning a week when we gather with friends to worship. But if we do that seven whole days, not one in seven, I think this walk through Advent, through pandemic, through holidays, is something that we might remember is one of the most deeply spiritual times of our lives.