December 24, 2018
The Christmas 1C Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for Luke 2:41-52 from the Lectionary Gospel; 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 148 from the Lectionary Psalms; and Colossians 3:12-17 from the Lectionary Epistle.
Related Reformed confession: Lectionary Epistle: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 103 (Lord’s Day 38)
Author: Scott Hoezee
The movie Home Alone could probably have worked as slapstick comedy no matter what time of the year the story was set in. But as it stands, the story takes place at Christmastime when a frantic family jets off to Paris for Christmas only to discover too late that they had left their youngest child behind. Thus Home Alone has become a Christmas movie and so is on various cable channels with some frequency during December every year now.
The movie’s plot strains credulity: how can a family leave a house, ride all the way to the airport, board a plane, and only THEN, midway over the Atlantic Ocean, realize a child has gone missing? “How in the world could something like this ever happen?” you want to ask. Seems far-fetched but you have to believe it for the film to work.
Of course, if I asked my incredulous question in the presence of Joseph and Mary, you sense that they’d soon start looking down at their feet and shifting their weight side to side in discomfiture. They did, after all, take off from Jerusalem one day without their boy. Worse, they took off without God’s boy.
Does it get any worse than to be entrusted with the only beloved Son of God and then you lose him? That’s just got to be somebody’s textbook definition of a “bad day.”
But bracket the fact that Jesus was the Son of God: he was Mary and Joseph’s son first and foremost in their minds and as any parent reading this knows, there is no panic like the panic that rises like a gorge in your throat when a child goes missing. The narrative at the end of Luke 2 tells us that Mary and Joseph just assumed their son Jesus was hanging out with the other kids somewhere in the pack of folks making the return trip from Jerusalem to Nazareth and they kept on assuming it across an entire day’s worth of walking. Didn’t see him at breakfast, but he must be around. Lunch? Well, no, they didn’t see him, but he must be grabbing a tuna sandwich with the other boys. Finally after dinner (still don’t see him but . . .) it got dark and all the children returned to the safety of their mothers and fathers to settle down for the night. At long last it dawns on Mary and Joseph: he’s not there! And upon a little checking with some cousins and the other kids, no one had, as a matter of fact, seen him all day.
It’s a curiosity of Luke’s gospel to see how the sprawling two opening chapters of Luke end. After all, these two very long chapters featured no fewer than three angel visitations, miraculous pronouncements, lyric songs, and above all the birth of the Savior of the world. Yet as it all comes in for a conclusion, we have a story as mundane, as utterly earthly and simple as they come: lost child. Panicked parents. A frantic search. The whole thing started with angels and it ends . . . paging for a lost child on the P.A. system at Walmart??
It takes them three whole days to locate him—it took one day just to get back to Jerusalem (they probably had to wait until first light the next day to head back) but that still meant there were two whole days of panic, 48 hours of further anxiety. It must have about done Mary in. Fifteen minutes of this kind of panic is enough to make the average parent feel dizzy and lightheaded and on the verge of mental and physical collapse. Even five minutes of this can feel like a lifetime.
Someone recently noted that when people lose things, they often say, “I finally found it and, of course, it was in the last place I looked!” But that’s silly: of course it was in the “last” place you looked because once you found it, you stopped looking! But behind that phrase there is a certain truth: the longer you look for something, the more unlikely are the locations you check. If you lose your car keys, you check coat pockets first, then countertops, then drawers, then the car itself, then you look under the sofa cushions. If by some chance you ultimately locate the keys in the freezer, you might remember how in the world it was you accidentally stuck them in there but the freezer surely was not among the most likely of spots to check.
So also in Luke 2: Mary and Joseph spend 48 hours before finally tumbling to the idea that just maybe they should check the Temple. “I can’t imagine he’d be there” they must have said to each other, “but we we’re running out of likely places so let’s check.” For his part Jesus is merely confused. The Temple was the first place they should have looked as it turns out. Jesus was not exactly “home alone” but he was “home” at the Temple. His parents don’t understand, however. They are too flush with a combination of intense relief and a little abiding post-traumatic stress to be able to suss it all out just then.
Who knows what Mary and Joseph had been thinking or why they actually managed to lose God’s only Son for a time. In its own quirky way, however, this conclusion to Luke 2 provides us with a nice window onto the very human, very earthy, very mundane nature of the gospel. The same chapter in Luke that began with angels singing in the sky concludes with an utterly homely little story about parental error, deep panic, great relief yet with all of it played out on a very ordinary stage.
The Lectionary assigns this story for the Sunday after Christmas (and in 2018 there is only this one Sunday after Christmas since Epiphany will itself be a Sunday). It fits well then. After all the tinsel and the glitter, all the hyperventilating of the media (and even of the church sometimes) to make this season so “special,” we need to come back down to earth and watch God’s drama of salvation unfold quietly and steadily. We come back down to earth because that is what God’s Son did, too: he came down to earth in order to redeem that same earth and all the lives we lead here.
So let’s hear it for Luke yet again for preserving for us an utterly mundane incident that itself encapsulates the Gospel so very nicely.
Some while back I was delighted to have a commentator point something out that I had never before seen in this text. But notice that in Luke 2:51, having been found by his parents and scolded by them to boot, suddenly it is Jesus who is in the lead. In verses 41 and 42, when this story began, we are told that they all went up to Jerusalem from Nazareth. But in verse 51 the subject of the verb becomes he, as in Jesus. He went down to Nazareth and his parents are said to accompany him. Jesus the child leads the way out of Jerusalem. This may indeed have been Luke’s subtle way to set up the next portion of his gospel in which Jesus’ active ministry will take center stage.
Luke 2:51 is the second time Luke tells us that Mary treasured things up in her heart. The first
time was after the shepherds popped in to see the infant Jesus. But now this second time follows a troubling and frightening incident. It seems that Mary at least discovered that when it came to her son Jesus, there would be plenty of opportunity to treasure up both wonderful things and perplexingly troubling things. We sometimes forget this in the Christmas season and in its aftermath. We view tragedy, illness, or bad news that comes during December as an unwelcome Advent guest.
If we, blessedly enough, can get by without any real sadness within our own family circle during December, then we shut out and bracket for a few days the tragedies we hear from others. But if we are forced to deal with a tragedy in the holidays, we conclude that Christmas is maybe ruined forever for us. If from now on Christmas Eve will remind us of that night when grandpa had a stroke, then we have the uneasy feeling that this unfitting event will keep us from ever really observing Christmas the only way we think it should be celebrated: namely, with a busy joy that must not stop for or include sorrow.
But Mary’s wrinkled forehead as she pours ever-more ponderings into her heart points us a different direction. It was the incongruity of it all, the cross-currents and contradictions, that motivated Mary to do her pondering. That’s why you get the feeling that the woman who gathered up those disparate events and pondered them in her heart would not find pain and sadness at variance with “the holiday spirit.” Mary had no other way to ponder what we call Christmas other than to recall hurtful memories.
Throughout her son’s life, Mary tried to make sense out of it all. How well she succeeded we don’t know, though it seems a lot of confusion remained for Mary. But at least she recognized that the birth of the one whom the angels had called Savior and Lord had something, and just maybe had everything, to do with the world’s jagged edges. We don’t know what, if any, conclusions she drew. But a few decades later, when she wept over her baby boy as he writhed on a Roman cross, she most certainly continued her confused pondering. This son of hers just never had an easy road–not when his life began and certainly not when it ended.
“What could it all mean?” Mary’s heart screamed. We do well to ask the same question—to ask it and then trust God’s Spirit to help us answer it.
1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26
Author: Stan Mast
You will be quickly forgiven if, upon first reading, you decide not to preach on this little snippet of Scripture. How can you build a helpful Gospel centered sermon on this gerrymandered bit of fluff? Why in the world would the RCL land here for this first Sunday after Christmas? I mean, the first Sunday after Christmas is a bit of a downer anyway. What is there to say after the celebration of God entering history as a Jewish baby to save the world? Why would any preacher follow that world-shattering news with this story about Samuel’s early years? Not only does this take us backward in history, but it takes us downward in dramatic effect and theological import.
So, why would you preach on this story, instead of the Gospel reading for today which tells the wonderful story of Jesus in the Temple at the age of 12? The only reason to preach on this vignette from Samuel’s early life are its connections with that story about Jesus’ early life. If you play on those connections, you might find a sermon that speaks powerfully to our time.
The most obvious connection between the story of Samuel here in I Samuel and the story of Jesus in the Temple in Luke 2 is the nearly verbatim repetition of this description of their early lives. “And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with men (I Samuel 2:26).” “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men (Luke 2:52, and cf. 2:40).”
Now that parallel description might be unexceptional, just the normal way a mother might report on the growth of her son, except for all the other parallels between Samuel and Jesus. Both were miracle births, involving direct intervention by God. Both births elicited magnificent and similar songs of praise from their mothers. Both are presented to God in the Temple, which is exactly where we find them in these parallel readings. And, as we’ve seen, both grow in wisdom, stature, and favor.
The major difference between the two readings is Jesus’ stunning explanation of his presence “in my father’s house” or as other translations add “being about my father’s business.” That takes us to the major preaching point on these twin passages, but that’s for a little later.
For now, we need to focus on the crises surrounding this text about Samuel, crises that explain why Samuel is so important to the story of salvation and, thus, why he is a type of Christ. The first crisis is found in the words between our edited reading. In verses 22-25, we read about the depraved priestly ministry of Eli’s sons. Not only were they misusing the sacrifices offered to God (2:12-17), a sin that was very great in God’s sight, but they were also having sex with the women who served in the Temple, a sin that was very great in Eli’s sight, but which he could not make them stop.
So, the worship of God was being polluted in dramatic ways. That put Israel’s faith in real jeopardy, because as the old saying goes “the way we worship is the way we believe.” But there was a Savior on the way, a child of destiny, who will cleanse the Temple.
That internal religious problem was compounded by an external political/military problem. In fact, it is likely that the spiritual crisis contributed to the political crisis. That crisis was the ongoing and increasing attacks by the Philistines. It got so bad that those pagans actually stole the ark of the covenant from the Tabernacle in I Samuel 4. Into this crisis comes a Savior, a child of destiny. He would be instrumental in appointing the first kings of Israel who would finally get rid of the Philistine menace.
So, Samuel served in a time of crisis and transition and was the central figure in saving and securing the Kingdom of God on earth. He was not only a king maker, ushering in the Davidic line that would be so central in God’s dealings with Israel (and, indeed, the world), but he also functioned in a royal way by rallying the troops to defeat the Philistines (I Samuel 7).
Samuel was also a prophet, on whose words the whole nation hung (3:19-21). And, though not officially a priest, he functioned as one, wearing an ephod, sleeping near the ark of the covenant, and ultimately being on the scene when the wicked sons of Eli were removed from the roles as priests. Even as Eli’s sons died for their sins, new life was growing in Israel in the person of Samuel.
There had been no one in Israel like Samuel since the days of the great Moses. He was, in a sense, the combination of prophet, priest and king that Christ would be. To say that Samuel was a type of Christ is an understatement.
Thus, our little text gives us opportunity to reflect on the work of Christ, particularly if we notice the one great difference between Samuel and Jesus. As I said above, there are numerous parallels between the two men and the two texts: miraculous births, magnificent birth songs, childhood presence in the Temple, growth in wisdom and stature and favor, important service in the Kingdom of God as prophet, priest and king. All those continuities make this little text very interesting.
But there is a major discontinuity that makes it gospel, or at least a prelude to the Gospel. The difference between Samuel and Jesus is found in Jesus’ words about being in what he called “my father’s house” doing “his Father’s business.” Samuel may have been a child of destiny, but Jesus was the Son of God.
Or to put it in a way that doesn’t involve trinitarian speculation, Samuel’s ministry would soon fade away, as he inaugurated the era of the kings. As Samuel aged, his person and work became less important. And then he died and it was over. Jesus ministry did not fade away. He never got the chance to grow old. He died at a young age, but that was not the end of his ministry and influence. He rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and now continues to do his Father’s business as the great Prophet, Priest and King. He was human, just like Samuel, just like us, but he was the Father’s Child, the Savior of his people throughout the world.
Thus, a focus on the marvelous ministry of Samuel as introduced by this prelude in I Samuel 2 can lead you into a sermon on the immeasurably greater ministry of Jesus as introduced by the prelude in Luke 2. As Samuel was the child sent by God to deal with the crises of his times, so Jesus is the Child sent by God to deal with the crises of our times, and all times. A fitting conclusion to your sermon on this text would be a unison/responsive reading of today’s reading from Psalm 148, which calls the universe to praise the Lord because “he has raised up for his people a horn…. Praise the Lord!”
As I am writing this piece, the hotly contested mid-term elections are about to occur in the United States. As you read this piece, those elections will have been over for nearly two months. Looking ahead, many people are looking for a transition, either eagerly or fearfully. Looking back, you know what happened and are either happy or sad. However those elections turn out, some will see their work fade away while others will see a new beginning. Between my writing and your reading, we have celebrated the birth of One whose work will never fade away. It is his enduring work of salvation that gives us stability and security in the unending crises of our time.
Author: Scott Hoezee
We have but one Sunday after Christmas this year as Epiphany proper is already next week on January 6. So the Lectionary decided to let loose with all the post-Christmas praise it could muster by choosing Psalm 148. Talk about relentless! This Psalm is one long string of the imperative hallelu yah or “Praise Yahweh,” and no one is excluded from this command to join the cosmic choir. Sure we start where you more or less expect a command of praise to be issued with angels and those beings in the heavenly realms. After that, though, things get kind of strange if you take this poem more or less straightforwardly.
Because the next thing you know it’s sort of the proverbial “Everybody in the pool!” invitation to sing a song to the God of Israel. It’s obvious I know but let’s make a list of who is compelled to sing along here:
By the time you get to verse 13 you half expect the psalmist to wonder aloud “Did I leave anyone out?” (Well, yes, old women seem to get a pass but other than that . . .).
It boggles the mind. Apple trees praise God as do dolphins and dung beetles. Mount Fuji is in the choir and so also are the depths of the Indian Ocean, the Baltimore Oriole, the star Alpha Centuri, and the giraffes. Things you cannot see (the wind) get included as well as things you can see like cumulus clouds and the hail that falls to the earth from big thunderstorms. It get to the point where you are almost tempted to wonder if this is a religious poem or the index for some National Geographic book about the natural world. Is this the praise of Israel or an episode of the old TV show “Wild Kingdom.”
(Good old Marlin Perkins!)
Of course, this tempts us to take only the first and last parts of that long list literally: a command to praise makes sense only when issued to those who can consciously respond to it: angels and people, in other words. Cougars and damselfish and snow storms are all just metaphors or, at best, anthropomorphisms we need not take seriously much less literally. The average raindrop cannot praise God, after all.
The thing is, the Bible in places like Psalm 148 doesn’t differentiate. The same command comes to all creatures and people and features of the creation equally and with the same force. Perhaps a given critter’s inability to understand this command literally is nothing against its participation in some fashion in the cosmic chorus of praise to Yahweh, the Maker of all things. Perhaps in God’s estimation—if not in his ears—the rushing of the wind, the swirling of the snowflakes, the songs of Humpback Whales, and the applause-like clattering of ocean waves over cobbles on the shore are songs of praise. Perhaps a chicken just being a chicken and an oak tree just clacking its branches are a larger part of a larger song that gives God pleasure and delight.
After all, once God finished creating the heavens and the earth and filling up the skies with birds and the oceans with fish, the first order of business in Genesis was a Sabbath, a rest, a pause. But it was not because the Almighty was winded and tired from six days of creating but so that God took take the time to soak up the sights and sounds of all he had made. Sabbath was for delight, for revelry, for looking and listening to creation’s chorus. Sabbath was not silence and sleep but vigilance and attention to what had been made.
So here we are on the Sunday after Christmas considering Psalm 148 in the Year C Lectionary. It is an apt choice. Because the incarnation we just marked once again was precisely a miracle in our time and space and on this very earth. For all our Advent and Christmas attention to glitz and glitter and angels dancing amidst the stars, Christmas is finally earthy, gritty, as real as the soil beneath our feet. The Son of God came down here in order to save us because it was not just the human “us” that was in the salvation mix. It was—to riff on Colossians 1—ta panta, “all things” that God set out to save. All the things the Son of God as the Word of God spoke into being in the beginning: let there be light, let there be clouds, let there be tadpoles and rivers and sea slugs and daffodils and gazelles and quasars and galaxies and mallard ducks. Let there be all things and let there then be salvation for all things too.
“O God, you hate nothing you have made” an ancient prayer of the church says. Indeed. And so everything that God made has a literal—and not a merely metaphorical—place in the cosmic choir of praise to God.
It is fitting, then, on this Sunday after the incarnation celebration just past to be reminded of that vast choir of other beings and creatures and things with whom we sing also our “Hallelujah” to our great Triune God. Psalm 148 widens out the scope of our wonder (provided we don’t cash out most of it as mere metaphor that is). God’s Name alone is exalted and is praised above the heavens. Praise the Lord, then.
Near the middle of C.S. Lewis’s sixth book of “The Chronicles of Narnia,” The Magician’s Nephew, there is a marvelous scene in which the characters in the story get to look back to see how it was the great lion, Aslan, had created Narnia (and the whole universe really). It was through a song. Aslan sings the creation into being. And as he sings, the creatures that get created—starting with the stars and other heavenly things—join in the song to create still more and more things and creatures. There is something utterly lyric—literally and figuratively—for Lewis to picture creation just this way. It reminds one of God’s words to Job about how at the dawn of time all the morning starts sang together for joy. Indeed, there is musicality to God’s great work of creation. Small wonder that a poem like Psalm 148 reminds all those created realities to join the cosmic choir of praise once more.
It also reminds me of the stunning creation sequences from Terrence Malick’s film The Tree of Life as they are accompanied by stunning music. Like Job, in that movie the story of creation comes in (quirky) answer to the deep questions we ask about life’s tragedies. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=npa34sjJ_9E
Author: Doug Bratt
Some people who proclaim Colossians 3 this week are old enough to remember a kind of worship battle that largely preceded today’s battles over music. Some of those battles were fought over appropriate clothing for wearing to worship.
During the 1960’s and 70’s my dad always wore a suit and tie and my mom wore a dress to church. While my siblings and I didn’t dress quite that formally, our parents taught us to dress “well” for worship services.
Yet just as the 1960’s and 70’s witnessed many other changes, they also witnessed changes in what constitutes what we once called our “Sunday best.” Some North American Christians began wearing clothing to worship services that grandparents (and even parents) considered too casual for wearing to church.
This morning’s text talks about what the apostle Paul would call appropriate “clothing.” However, he’s not talking about dressing in what we used to call our “Sunday best.” No, the attire about which the apostle speaks is our character. He wonders if we’ve let God “dress” us in the “clothing” that is compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. And if we’ve, most importantly, put on “over” those virtues the “coat” or “jacket” of love.
In the part of Colossians 3 that precedes that which the Lectionary appoints for this Sunday, Paul reminds his readers of our baptism into Christ’s death by which the Spirit puts to death our sinful ways of living. The apostle also reminds God’s people that God has raised us with Christ Jesus to a new life of obedience.
Of course, reading such reminders on the last Sunday of the old year may seem like jumping right to Good Friday and Easter. That’s part of the reason why we remember that many Christians just celebrated Christmas because of what happened on the first Good Friday and Easter. Had the baby Jesus not also grown up to be the crucified and risen Christ, his birth wouldn’t be important.
Like what, then, does the “wardrobe” of someone whom God has crucified and raised with that Christ look? In verse 8 Paul challenges us to “strip off” our “clothing” that is anger, slander, filthy language, lying and other vices. Christians who “wear” things like that are like people who wear a Speedo to church or a wedding dress into a farrowing house.
That’s an appropriate message for this last Sunday of the year of our Lord, 2018. After all, our culture sees the start of a new year as a time of renewal. Yet Christian renewal takes on a cruciform shape. After all, God’s adopted sons and daughters don’t want to just be better people. You and I also long to be people who increasingly imitate our crucified and risen Savior.
Colossians 3 reminds God’s adopted sons and daughters that those who celebrate Christ’s birth do so, in part, by putting on the right clothing. However, the apostle is not talking about wearing that new sweater Grandma knit or the tie your neighbor bought you.
Instead Paul invites God’s beloved people to “clothe” ourselves in the new “outfits” that are Christian virtues that are compassion, kindness and humility, as well as gentleness, patience and forgiveness. The apostle invites us to respond to Christ’s birth by “wearing” a fruit of the Spirit such as love.
For Christians making New Year’s resolutions is about reclaiming our identity as those who have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. On this last Sunday in 2018 the Epistolary text the Lectionary appoints invites to reclaim our identity as “God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved.”
Yet this description shows a shift in Israelite thinking. Passages like Deuteronomy 7 show that these were, after all, titles God gave originally to the nation of Israel. God, however, showed Paul that God graciously chooses and loves both Jews and Gentiles. Those whom God has chosen and loved respond, says the apostle in verse 12 and following, by adopting some of the virtues of Christ himself.
God, of course, created our first parents in God’s image, to be in many ways like God. However, while their as well as our own sin blurred that resemblance, our text reminds us that God is restoring the likeness, making us more and more like Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is, in other words, increasingly “clothing” us in compassion, kindness and humility.
Of course, this isn’t very fashionable “attire.” We, after all, naturally prefer to “wear” things like sexual immorality, greed and filthy language. So when God clothes God’s beloved children in virtues like compassion and humility, we stick out. Few of our neighbors and co-workers think of our bearing with each other and patience, for example, as fashionable.
Yet Christians profess that the filthy clothing that is sin didn’t just drive our first parents out of God’s loving presence in the garden. Our sin also drove Jesus Christ to the humiliation, torture and abandonment of the cross.
So those who celebrate Christmas can be honest about not just our sins, but also the sins of the Church and broader society. We sometimes find it hard to forgive others and ourselves for the sins they and we have committed. Yet those whom God has forgiven want to lovingly view and treat those who have sinned against us the way God views and treat us.
However, as Leonard Kline notes, “Love is not just an empty slogan” for those who have just celebrated Christmas. It’s part of the new “wardrobe” in which God has clothed us through the death and resurrection of the Christ.
So while our media and entertainment industry talk much about love, Jesus Christ’s cradle and cross give it its Christian shape. Christian love is not a sentimental or mushy feeling of attraction. It’s the kind of self-sacrifice we see in Jesus’ giving up heaven’s glory to become just like his adopted siblings in every way except that he was perfect.
So those who “wear” love are willing to give ourselves, as Jesus did, to even undeserving people. Those who love as Christ loved are always looking beyond those we like and ourselves. We even want to love our enemies, just as Christ loved his enemies.
However, Paul goes on to remind us, we always “dress” ourselves in things like forgiveness, peace and love in the context of the Church. In verse 16, after all, he invites us to “teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and … sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude … to God.”
This reminds us that Jesus wasn’t born in Bethlehem, as Klein notes, to “clothe” a group of rugged individualists. He came, instead, to create a body that, dressed in forgiveness, love and peace, would show the world God’s love.
So it’s appropriate that these twelve days of Christmas are a time for singing. Praise is, after all, one of the most appropriate corporate responses to God’s loving presence in Jesus Christ. While we want worship to comfort and bless us, its first goal is to bring honor and glory to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yet Paul concludes our text by reminding us that whether God’s beloved children sing or share our food with the hungry, we do it in Jesus’ name. Whether we teach each other or learn from each other, we do it in Jesus’ name. In fact, we do everything in Jesus’ name.
Sometimes that means that we do or say things in distinctly Christian ways. However, most of the time doing things in Jesus’ name simply means consciously “dressing” ourselves in words and actions that bring glory not first to us, but to God.
In The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Vol. I: Visions of Glory, 1874-1932, William Manchester writes about Londoners’ sense of fashion. He notes that each Victorian group and class of people had its own distinctive attire.
“Identifying a stranger’s class has always been a social challenge for Londoners. Today it is a matter of vowels. In [Victorian] days it was far easier, and would usually be accomplished by a glance.
“J. M. Bailey, an American visitor to London in the 1870’s, wrote that he could find ‘traces of nobility’ in an aristocrat’s ‘very step and bearing.’ He asked mischievously: ‘Can you conceive of a bowlegged duke? Or is it possible for you to locate a pimple on the nose of a viscount? And no one, however diseased his imagination, ever pictures a baron with an ulcerated leg, or conceived of such a monstrous impossibility as a cross-eyed duchess.’
“This was Yankee wit, but the plain fact was that you could tell. Gentlemen, no less than ladies, could be identified by their clothing. They wore top hats, indoors and out, except in homes or churches. Cuffs and collars were starched, cravats were affixed with jeweled pins, waistcoats were snowy white, wide tabular trousers swept the ground at the heel but rose in front over the instep, black frock coats were somber and exquisitely cut.
“Swinging their elegant, gold-headed canes, gentlemen swaggered when crossing the street, dispensing coins to fawning men who swept the dung from their paths. (These men were followed by nimble boys with pans and brushes, who collected the ordure and sold it in the West End for fertilizer.) Bowlers were worn by clerks and shopkeepers and caps by those below them. Switching hats wouldn’t have occurred to them, and it wouldn’t have fooled anyone anyway.
“Despite advances in mass production of menswear, dry cleaning was unknown in the London of the time. Suits had to be picked apart at the seams, washed, and sewn back together. Patricians wore new clothes or had tailors who could resew the garments they had made in the first place. The men in bowlers and caps couldn’t do it; their wives tried but were unskillful, which accounts for their curiously wrinkled Sabbath-suit appearance in old photographs.”