Western Gifts from Writers
These literary gifts are from writers of Western Civilization, but not necessarily from writers of the American West which is, perhaps, still lacking in civilization! I have therefore chosen to eschew “Santa Got Run Over by A Reindeer” and “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”, although I can confidently assure you that there are curmudgeons and misanthropes doing their best to fulfill those song titles in America, if not ‘round the world.
This Christmas I look to the traditions of Western Civ as succinctly and eloquently expressed in the words of a sermon crafted by screenwriters.
The 1947 Hollywood film, The Bishop’s Wife, directed by Henry Koster, features a screenplay written by Robert Sherwood and Leonard Bercovici, who were credited; and by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, who were uncredited. With such a talented conglomeration of screenwriters, it is difficult to determine who wrote which witty lines, but the basis for this story was the novel by the American novelist and poet Robert Nathan (January 2, 1894 – May 25, 1985).
Basically, we have a film about a bishop whose problem with time management has wreaked havoc in his marriage to even an overly patient wife, and about an angel who assumes human form as the most handsome and charming man on the face of the earth. The setting could be England, but it could also be any small town in post-war America. A large part of the magic of this movie from the Golden Era of Hollywood is its ability to transcend time and place, religious denomination and political affiliation. Nowadays, this film might be named The Miracle of the Bishop’s Wife simply for those feats!
The ending of the film presents a sermon, a script that had been ostensibly prepared by Bishop Brougham, but was benevolently re-written (and undoubtedly vastly improved) by the angel, Dudley. All of the previous dialogue has worked toward this apex in the movie. The petty fears, selfish foibles, narrow-minded needs and nagging doubts about humanity, as well as about the Creator, vanish as the snow falls and the words of this very mortal man ascend, much like the cathedral that is now no longer necessary — because faith has replaced the material demand for brick-and-mortar to build a holy monument to faith.
Inspiring and ingenious, humorous and humble, The Bishop’s Wife harkens back to a time when Christmas was a simple celebration of the magnificence of God and the beneficence of people, rich and poor, during one night when the world was changed, and might yet be changed, again, forever.
As we lift our voices in praise of God, let us remember all year long the God that wishes to praise us.
Tonight, I want to tell you about the story of an empty stocking.
Once upon a midnight clear, there was a child’s cry, a blazing star hung over a stable, and wise men came with birthday gifts. We haven’t forgotten that night down the centuries. We celebrate it with stars on Christmas trees, with the sound of bells, and with gifts.
But especially with gifts. You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. For we forget nobody, adult or child. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. It’s his birthday we’re celebrating. Don’t let us ever forget that.
Let us ask ourselves what He would wish for most. And then, let each put in his share: loving kindness, warm hearts, and a stretched-out hand of tolerance. All the shining gifts that make peace on earth.