The Gospel According to Downton: The Way Things Were

Oh, how I miss Downton Abbey.

And how I give thanks for the DVDs that carry me back to that regal ground.

Last week I finished re-watching series 2, and the timing was perfect with the conclusion of a "Christmas Special." In the last scene, snow lightly fell around Lady Mary and Matthew as they finally were able to profess their love for each other at the same time. 

Timing is a key component of the stories at Downton Abbey, which makes the series an apt companion for the Advent season. Series 2 occurs during World War I, and the Crawley family transforms Downton into a hospital. Beds and injured soldiers fill rooms once resplendent with gold. The Crawley family changes their century-old traditions around drinks and meals to accommodate the healing of those injured in the war.

Of course, the war ends eventually, medical equipment leaves, and the straight back sofas return. As the family gathers for their pre-dinner drinks in the newfound peace, war still dominates the conversation. The house may look like it did before the war, but the people are not the same.

Everyone except for the Dowager Countess, played by Dame Maggie Smith.

Lady Sybil, her justice-loving granddaughter, notices that the Countess talks lovingly of life before the war and calls her out on it.


"Granny, do you really want for things to be the way they were before the war?"

Without hesitation or exclamation, the Countess answers, "Of course I do." 

The family exchanges quick glances that convey the same message: the Countess wishes for something that cannot be. Downton's rooms may look like they always did, but they are not the same because of the wounded who have lived in them.

The family gathered in those rooms may wear the same, formal garments they donned before the war. But the people in those clothes are now cloaked with the memories of injury, loss, and disillusionment.

Much remains the same, but the time has changed. And because they live in a new time, a time after war, much is not the same.

As we deck our private halls for Christmas and light the Advent candles in worship, we find ourselves in the familiar rooms of our traditions. But are we the same people we were a year ago?

While we are not in the throes of post-World War I like the characters of Downton Abbey, we have lived through various types of wars this year. And as the body of Christ, we must not forget that in our fallen world there is the ongoing spiritual war of good and evil, of light and darkness, of life and death. No matter how much we long for the way things were like the Dowager Countess, we are not the same as we were last Christmas.

And that is not a bad thing.

Hopefully we are better than we were a year ago.

Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
— Ephesians 6:11 (New Revised Standard Version)
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.
— Colossians 3:12 (New Revised Standard Version)
How lovely is your dwelling place,
O Lord of hosts!
My soul longs, indeed it faints
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh sing for joy
to the living God.
— Psalm 84:1-2 (New Revised Standard Version)

What should remain the same across time is how we dress and where we live. Clothed in righteous armor that enables us to work for peace. Living in the house of God through ongoing worship and prayer.

What should change with time is our growth in humility, our movement towards surrender, our embrace of what it means to embrace disciple's call and die to self. 

This Advent season, let us not work for the way things were. Instead, let us work for where we are now, with an eye towards the east, where the Morning Star is slowly rising in the promise of eternal peace.

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian