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Epistle: Philippians 1:3-11

3I thank my God every time I remember you, 4constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, 5because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. 6I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. 7It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. 9And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight 10to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, 11having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

What I appreciate in St. Paul’s words to the Philippians is how often he lifts them up, reminds them they are God’s beloved, and are partners with him in proclaiming the Gospel.

It reminds me of another saint – Fred Rogers. I shared this story in a sermon a couple of months ago.

The movie about Mr. Rogers, starring Tom Hanks as Mr. Rogers, is based on an article by Tom Junod. In that article, the reporter shared an interaction between Mr. Rogers and a teenage boy severely afflicted with cerebral palsy and terrible anger. One of the boys' few consolations in life, was watching Mister Rogers Neighborhood. The author writes:

'At first, the boy was made very nervous by the thought that Mister Rogers was visiting him. He was so nervous, in fact, that when Mister Rogers did visit, he got mad at himself and began hitting himself, and his mother had to take him to another room and talk to him.

Mister Rogers didn't leave, though. He wanted something from the boy, and Mister Rogers never leaves when he wants something from somebody. He just waited patiently, and when the boy came back, Mister Rogers talked to him, and then he made his request. He said, 'I would like you to do something for me. Would you do something for me?'

On his computer, the boy answered yes, of course, he would do anything for Mister Rogers, so then Mister Rogers said: I would like you to pray for me. Will you pray for me?' And now the boy didn't know how to respond. He was thunderstruck... because nobody had ever asked him for something like that, ever. The boy had always been prayed for. The boy had always been the object of prayer, and now, he was being asked to pray for Mister Rogers, and although at first he didn't know how to do it, he said he would, he said he'd try.

And ever since then he keeps Mister Rogers in his prayers and doesn't talk about wanting to die anymore, because he figures if Mister Rogers likes him, that must mean that God likes him, too. As for Mister Rogers himself... he doesn't look at the story the same way the boy did / or I did.

In fact, when Mister Rogers first told me the story, I complimented him on being smart – for knowing that asking the boy for his prayers would make the boy feel better about himself – and Mister Rogers responded by looking at me first with puzzlement and then with surprise.

'Oh heavens no, Tom! I didn't ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his prayers, his intercession.” (Tim Madigan, I'm Proud of You: My Friendship with Fred Rogers)

Very close to God. What a beautiful image.

The good news is God is close to us – Jesus Christ, who comes to us as God in the Flesh, Emmanuel, God with us, comes to us and blesses us! That is what we celebrate in this season. God comes down to be with us because God loves what God has created.

May we see in each other one who is loved by God. Beloved. Be loved.

Let us pray: Thank you, God for loving us. May we see in our neighbor one who is loved by you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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