Many years ago, the Bishop came to visit the little church I was serving in Oklahoma. Our daughters were little at the time. Shannon was 6 and Meghan was 4. Colleen made sure to impress upon them that the Bishop was an important person and that they both needed to be on their best behavior for his visit.
Shannon and Meghan’s favorite video at the time, the one they watched over and over was Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. They not only watched it they acted it out. Their Grandmother even made them sleeping beauty costumes. You can imagine the effect that the video had on their imaginations.
Well, the day finally came for the Bishop’s visit. Colleen made sure that the girls were dressed in their Sunday best. When the Bishop and his wife came into the church, I introduced Shannon and Meghan. Shannon shook the hand of the Bishop but Meghan did something completely unexpected. I don’t know what was going on in her mind, but she looked up at the Bishop and his wife and she did a big curtsy in front of them. I had a feeling watching a lot of Sleeping Beauty, had a lot to do with Meghan doing her curtsy. Fortunately, the Bishop and his wife thought it was the cutest thing that they had ever seen. I found out later from Shannon that Meghan spent a lot of time practicing her curtsy making sure that she did right for the Bishop.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Advent means arrival and so the season of Advent is supposed to be about preparing ourselves for the arrival of the Christ child. But it seems to be me that that Christ child has already arrived. Think about it. We’ve been hearing and singing Christmas carols since before Thanksgiving. The stores have been selling Christmas decorations for some time now. It’s not like the first Christmas. There is no mystery about how and why Jesus came into the world. We know the story. We know who Jesus is and what he did. We know what he taught us to do.
And so, since we know all that, it seems to me that Advent should be just as much a time for practicing for Jesus’ arrival as it is preparing for it. We should practice just as Meghan practiced her curtsy for when the Bishop arrived. And one of the things that I think we need to practice a lot this Christmas season is something that Jesus taught us to do, kindness.
One of the most important things that Jesus taught his Disciples to do, was to be kind to everyone regardless of who they were or what they did. The only times, Jesus got upset were when people, especially religious ones, treated people unkindly. What the world needs now is a lot more people practicing kindness.
In our scripture passage, Paul is writing to the Philippians from prison. Even though Paul is in prison, he has heard good things about how the Philippians have been practicing the things he had taught them. One of things we can assume Paul taught them was treating one everyone with kindness. Paul was not always kind to others. We know that when Paul was a Pharisee, he didn’t go to Damascus with the intent of showing kindness to the Christians living there. It was on his trip there that Paul met Christ. The result of that meeting was that Paul became temporarily blind and so he had to rely on the kindness of the very people he had gone to arrest. We can assume that Paul carried that kindness with him to the churches that he started.
Paul is not just thankful for them practicing kindness towards one another, he hopes that they will continue practicing it till the time he is able to come to them again or when the Day of Christ finally come. Paul’s ultimate hope for them is that they will get better so that “God could complete a good work that was started in them.”
We don’t often think about God completing a good work that was started in us. I know people who would “Why would God want to have anything to do with me.” I am not worthy of his time. But the truth is that in each one of us God has started a good work that is always moving to completion.
Think of it this way. How many of you have ever wanted to better at something? When I took up being a ski instructor the first time, I knew immediately that it was something that I wanted to be better at. And so, I practiced my skiing so that I could get better at it. That’s the whole point of practicing something so that we become better at it.
I believe God wants us to be better people and a better church. Not because we are bad, but because God loves us and like any parent who loves their children, they want the what is best for them. That’s partly the reason why he sent his son as a tiny baby into a world full of sin and darkness, to show us how to be better. One of things that Jesus showed us was how to be kind to everyone. The more we practice kindness the better people we become and the more we practice kindness the more we become like that which God created us to be. In other words, God completing a good work that God started in us.
There’s a reason why I am focused on the idea of practicing kindness. I suppose there are lot of things that Jesus taught us that we could be practicing like tolerance and compassion and generosity. But it seems to me that practicing kindness and treating one another with kindness, especially those who are different than us, is pretty basic for being a Christian.
One of the reasons for focusing on kindness is the death of our 41st President, George HW Bush died. One of things that was repeatedly memorialized about his life was the kindness he showed others, even to those who were his political opponents. It was George Bush who coined the phrase “A kinder gentler nation.” His death for me put into sharp focus just how much kindness is lacking in our social and political discourse.
More importantly I noticed that there are a lot of people, including faithful Christians who aren’t acting very kind to others. And that maybe because we are so caught up in our own concerns that we forget how important it is to practice kindness towards others. It’s sort like what happens in the parable of the sheep and goats in the 25the chapter. The Son of man comes and divided his people into sheep and goats. The sheep were commended for showing kindness. The thing is they didn’t even realize they being kind. It was a part of who they were and what they did. The goats on the other hand goats thought they were being faithful, the thing they were lacking was kindness. To paraphrase they said, “But Lord we were being faithful, we followed the laws, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or naked or in jail?” They were missing practicing the important things of the faith. What is more important than us as Christian practicing kindness to everyone we meet? That is what brings us together as the Church. Do you think you would be coming and worshipping in this church if this church did not practice kindness on a regular basis?
The point of Advent is to remind us that God is sending his son Jesus into the world soon. I believe we are called to do more than just prepare for Jesus’ arrival. I believe we are called to practice for it, and not just for Christmas but every day after Christmas. One of the most important things we can practice right now, in this time and place with everything going on in the world is kindness. And in practicing kindness towards others we become better people so that as Paul says God completes the work that was started in all of us.
All of us have within us God’s grace and power to practice kindness no matter what the circumstance maybe. Even in those situations when someone is being unkind towards to you. You can change that person’s attitude and life by showing them kindness and grace. When you are having a difficult time being kind to someone, think about the Kindness and grace God has extended to you and how that kindness became flesh in the form of a tiny child born in a manger.
We are kind to others because God is kind to us. And we in turn take God’s kindness and share it with others. Part of what we are doing this morning is sharing communion together can be described as practicing kindness. God extends kindness in inviting us to his table and we practice kindness in turn by welcoming everyone, regardless of who they or what they have done around the Lord’s table and then together taking that kindness and grace we experience through the sharing of Christ’s body and blood and going out and sharing with a broken and hurting world that is really, really, really, desperate for expressions of kindness.
So, the next time you are at the store and your impatient with the cashier. Just use your imagination and think of them as someone important like a Bishop and in this case practice a little kindness.