In Baptism you are clothed with the clothing of Christ, and when you put that on, you become Christ – compassionate, kind, gentle, forgiving – and part of Christ’s healing of the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The First Sunday of Christmas, year C
Texts: Colossians 3:12-17,1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26, Luke 2:41-52
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
The Vikings came to Minnesota a year before I was born.
Since before I was five, I remember watching them every week, wanting to be them. At six I had one of those uniforms Sears sold – flimsy helmet, thin pants, printed-on purple shirt (number 25) –I loved it.
In my adulthood it became possible to purchase authentic jerseys of NFL teams, with the same fabric, stitched-on letters and names, the same embroidered patches they wore on the field. They’re common now, but then it was new. When I was young, I loved Fred Cox, the Vikings kicker. Number 14. I’d go out to the front yard and kick field goals. I’d hold my hand up like he did, and run straight up and kick. I was not good. But I still imagined it was me as a Viking. So when I bought a jersey as an adult, I wanted number 14.
It’s great. Well-made, nicely stitched, and it’s actually what they were wearing twenty years ago, or whenever I bought it. But I didn’t get it with Fred’s name on the back. The fantasy was “what if I were good enough to play for the Vikings.” I needed my name on the back.
When I wear this, it looks good. But as an adult, I’ve realized something my imagination as a child did not. Wearing this jersey, I’m still slow, not terribly well coordinated, and pretty small. Number 14 is now worn by Stefon Diggs, a blindingly fast receiver. I’m built a little more like Fred Cox, but there’s no hope of me being like Stefon.
In the end, it’s just a fun shirt. It doesn’t make me good enough to play for the Vikings.
Now, sometimes if you dress the part, you actually become what you’re dressing into, and sometimes not.
Take this chasuble. It’s what the presider wears at Eucharist. Wearing it shows my role in the liturgy. But it’s not what makes me pastor of Mount Olive. Your call to me, my ordination and training, that’s what makes me the presider at Eucharist, not this pretty garment.
But the one underneath is a different story. Underneath I wear an alb, just like everyone up here. And the alb stands as a sign of our baptism into Christ. Covered in a clean garment, we remember we are washed in God’s waters and made new people. All of you could wear albs to church to remember your baptism; normally just worship leaders do.
The alb itself doesn’t change you. Wearing an alb doesn’t make you any more Christlike than wearing jeans does. But what it stands for changes everything.
Today Paul says, since you are God’s beloved, God’s chosen, put on Christ-clothes and become what you look like.
Earlier he told the Colossians they’ve put to death the old ways, and are raised into new life in Christ. So, Paul says, live that way.
Clothe yourselves with Christ, he says. Every virtue Paul names here has already been attributed to Christ Jesus in other writings of Paul. Now they are commanded to us, as baptismal clothing. Paul beautifully believes that, unlike my jersey or other clothes, covering yourself with these clothes will not just make you look like these things. It will change you into them.
So, put on these clothes, Paul says:
Clothe yourself with compassion – literally “the bowels of mercy, guts of mercy,” that same phrase we heard in Advent. Cover yourself with the same gut-level mercy Christ has for the world. You will become mercifully compassionate, like Christ.
Clothe yourself with kindness, or goodness. Make your outward appearance always generous kindness toward all, and you will become kind, like Christ.
Clothe yourself with humility. This is the same word Paul uses in Philippians 2 to describe Jesus putting off divinity and making himself us. Cover yourself with that vulnerable self-loss for others. Copy Christ and you will become truly humble, like Christ.
Clothe yourself with meekness, which is better translated “gentleness.” When you cover all your actions with gentleness, you become Christ’s grace.
Clothe yourself with patience, literally “long-suffering.” Just as God is patiently working within the creation to bring about salvation, so you can cover yourself with this same long-suffering hope. Acting patiently will eventually make you patient, like Christ.
And, just as Jesus commanded: if you’ve been wronged, or hurt, forgive, Paul says. Acting forgiving will change your heart and make you a forgiving person, like Christ.
Finally, Paul adds an overgarment, like a coat: “on top of all these, put on love.”
The love of Christ that has claimed you, forgiven you, been merciful and kind and gentle and good and patient with you, the love that gave itself up to death to bring life to the whole universe, let that love cover everything you are and do.
The color of your clothing is love. The shape of your clothing is love. The fabric of your clothing is love. All those other things Paul commands you to put on, all are covered in this self-giving, sacrificial, vulnerable, life-giving love that Christ has for you and the world. And when you put it on, you become love.
Then, after getting dressed, Paul says, put two things inside your heart: the peace of Christ and the Word of Christ.
Let your hearts be ruled, driven, by Christ’s peace. And let Christ’s Word dwell in you richly. Just as the Word of God has come to live in human flesh, let God’s Word enter your heart and live there, changing you, shaping you.
It is this Word, given by the Spirit, that will make you look like all the clothes of Christ you put on. It is this Word, given by the Spirit, that will give you the ability to be Christ in all these ways.
This is why Jesus came to us as a human being, God’s Eternal Word as one of us: to fully make us into the very image of God, to shape us into Christ ourselves.
Both Samuel and Jesus, young boys we see in the Temple today, grew up into the kind of servants of God they were.
We heard today that they grew in stature and wisdom, and in favor with God and the people. But they began as children, really precocious children, according to these two stories, but children. And the Spirit filled them and they grew into a great prophet and into the Savior of the world.
That’s your path. You are beloved to God, chosen by God, and in your baptism you have been clothed, covered in Christ.
Put on those clothes, and grow up to what you are meant to be. Let the Spirit shape you into being exactly like they are, exactly as Christ is. No clothes can make me a professional football player. Wearing jeans or a fancy robe doesn’t affect who you are, either. But put on these clothes of Christ, and you will become Christ, part of God’s great Christmas gift to the whole world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen