What to Wear into the New Year

December 29, 2019
Reverend Kelley Jepsen

Colossians 3:8-17

A belated Merry Christmas and a pre-emptive Happy New Year to you this fine Sunday morning.  I’m thrilled to be here and to be celebrating this, well, this weird time with you.  Is it Christmas?  Is it New Years?  Some of us are already back to work, others still celebrating their holidays.  You might have a lingering Christmas party or two, like I do this afternoon, one that just couldn’t quite get scheduled into the traditional Christmas time slots.  Most people probably still have decorations up, but for the most part, the Christmas songs are off the radio and people have begun looking ahead to the New Year.  This week we feel caught between memories and resolutions.  Between looking backward and looking forward.

Christmas, it feels like, is a time for memories.  We tell the most ancient of stories, the Christmas story, sure, but we also share memories and pull out albums.  At my family gathering on Christmas day, we looked through old pictures, some from my dad’s childhood and some from mine.  Four generations of stories caught in any array of pictures, each one holding countless memories and traditions.  Christmas is a time of memories – of retelling our stories but also the stories of God, and how those stories weave into one another.

But if Christmas is for memories, New Years is for dreams.  We think about “what could be” and ask “what will I accomplish this year?”  We set goals, dream up new visions, share resolutions.  We are inundated with media reminding us that this time of year is for new beginnings and fresh starts.

I saw a commercial just yesterday that said “2020 – the year to feel better, to look better, and to be better.”  Especially with a new decade upon us, it’s a time where we look ahead, feeling that anything is possible.

Of course while we might feel stuck between this odd time of looking backward and looking forward, we are decidedly still in the Christmas season if we look at a theological or liturgical clock.  The 12 days of Christmas is more than a song, it is a time between Christmas and Epiphany, which is on January 6.  These 12 days are set aside in the Christian calendar to celebrate the incarnation, to remember that God came onto this earth to be with us, and to think about how our lives might be different because of that.  The secular Christmas stared back in Thanksgiving, when the stores filled up with decorations and merchandise and the radio blared tunes of Rudolph and Little Saint Nick.  But the true Christmas has only begun.  And the work of Christmas has barely started.  In an article in Christianity Today, the authors point out the importance of these 12 days of Christmas saying, “They are important because they give us a way of reflecting on what the incarnation means in our lives.  Christmas commemorates the most momentous event in human history – the entry of God into the world [God] made, in the form of a baby.”[1]

A few years ago, I was sitting in this very sanctuary on Easter.  Beyond the Hallelujah chorus, I may not remember much about that particular Sunday except that Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen declared us to be a “resurrection people.”  The line stuck with me, but it took years of wrestling with it for me to understand what it meant to be people who not only believed in the resurrection of Jesus, but also to live in that way.

To live lives changed by what we witnessed, by believing the story, by knowing that because of Christ’s death and resurrection, everything had changed.  This morning I challenge us with a similar question – what would it mean to live as “incarnation people?”  People, who believe that God saw the brokenness in our world, saw our generations of trying and failing to follow God, and instead of walking away, chose to enter into the world.  Not because the world was perfect, but because it wasn’t.  What would it mean to live as people who remembered that we don’t have to have it all together for God to be here, for God to be incarnate, for God to dwell with us?  And how would we live differently because of this knowledge?

And once again, we find ourselves in a time of looking backward and looking forward.

And yet, this is a familiar place for us.  Just moments ago, we exercised this muscle of looking backward and looking forward.  In our call to confession sequence, the prayer of confession and silent confession, we remember the places we have fallen short of God’s expectations.  We took stock of ourselves and our community, confessing the ways in which we have not lived fully as God’s people.  We know how we ought to live and yet, we struggle to live in that way.  And even though we know that there is peace that comes with knowing Christ, we can’t jump ahead that quickly.  It isn’t enough for us to simply say, “I’m starting new” – we had to acknowledge first where we came from and then, we were reminded of our new lives in Christ.  Just like the Christmas story, we again are asked, how do we live as new beings in Christ?

So first, I think we have to start with what we are leaving behind.  When we look backward, what do we acknowledge from our past that we don’t have to bring with us into our future?  Our text this morning is from Paul’s letter to the Colossians and I believe he does a nice job of reminding us what we are to rid ourselves of as we take on this new life in Christ.  “But now you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with a new self.”  Stripping away of these layers is no joke – it brings us down to our truest, most vulnerable selves.  Anger, wrath, let me add fear, privilege, power, I know I hide behind these layers every day.  They serve as an armor, keeping me from feeling exposed in this world.  But if I can work to remove them, layer by layer, as I remember the ways in which they have hurt me and those around me, the ways in which they hold me back from showing my true self, I can start to tear them down and allow myself to be rebuilt in the image of Christ.

While we work to take down these heavy layers, this armor we have built, we can start to build our new wardrobe.  “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience.” Paul was writing to the new believers in Colossae with these instructions on how to present themselves to the world as new Christians.  And while this letter from a distant time and place, this message is true for us too.  We just celebrated not only one of the biggest days of the church calendar, but also one of the most momentous moments in our history as God’s people.  In remembering the incarnation, we are to live differently – so lets dress the part!

Paul suggests six layers that are important for building upon a good wardrobe – six layers is a good amount on a cold winter day like today.  The six layers are compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and, finally, love.

Now these first five layers are important.  Compassion, the concern for others should be closest to your heart.  It is the tenderness and mercy with which you see and relate to one another.  Next comes kindness, the act of showing one another affection and warmth, of being generous and considerate.  Our news has been full of stories of compassion and kindness this week as hear the stories of the generous outpouring of resources to those families displaced by the Drake Hotel fire.  Our neighbors who suffered unbelievable loss, loss of all they have, have been surrounded by the compassion and kindness of this city.  From stories of children giving their Christmas gifts to other children, people showing up with food and coats and blankets.  It has gotten to the point where they are turning away of donations that are not monetary because there have been so many.  Our hearts are warmed in the wake of such tragedy.

The third and fourth layers are humility and meekness which offer the ability to step back from one’s self and show concern for the other.  Its not a rejection of one’s own power but rather an ability to understand when to talk and when to listen.

And finally, patience, which is the ability to accept problems or sufferings without becoming anxious or annoyed.  Patience is about showing love when times are hard.  These layers of dress as prescribed by Paul are important reminders of the way in which we are to be with one another, how we are to present ourselves to the world, knowing the full story of God’s salvation work.

These are tall orders; this isn’t an easy list of accessories to slip on before we leave the house and we all know that there will be tears and rips to some of these layers but we should put them on anyways, shouldn’t we?  Because we know that they are important and over time, we work to mend them and make them better.  Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, they provide such a beautiful and necessary base layer but….

Paul goes on to say that “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”  Let love be your garment to the world.  When I was in Sunday School growing up, we sang a song based on this verse.  It’s a simple tune but its been going through my head every time I’ve sat down to work on this service.  The song goes “Put on love, every day.  Never hide your love away.  Don’t save love for a special day, just put on love every day.”

When we wear love, a love that is built on those foundations of layers, we are exposing our best selves to one another.  We are inviting others to put on love as well, even when days are hard or when we are too afraid to be vulnerable.  It is like those times where you don’t know what to wear, so you call your friends and see what they will be wearing.  That is what wearing love is like too.  We see it and we can mimic it to one another.  Sometimes we have to be bold in doing so – showing love when it is hard or uncomfortable.  But it is what Christ is calling us to do.

So what will you wear into this new year?  Now that we have seen and experienced God coming into this world again, how do we live differently?  How do we live as incarnation people?  I think we begin by mimicking God’s humility and vulnerability of entering the world as a baby.  We too allow ourselves to be vulnerable to this world, by deciding to leave our comfortable armor of anger, wrath, malice, slander, power, privilege, abusive language, fear, all the things that hold us back and hurt one another – we leave these comfortable layers behind.  Take this weird “in-between time” to look back and think about what you want to leave in the past.  And then look forward and decide how you want to clothe yourselves in layers of love – compassion, meekness, humility, patience, and kindness.  Now these layers might not be trendy, but I guarantee they’ll always be in style.

Just this past week we celebrated a time when God chose to come into this world, devoid of power and prestige, in the form of a vulnerable child.  God entered into this broken and messy place, incarnate, with us, and now nothing, nothing will be the same.  As we look back on this time, let us also look forward to the ways in which we too can embody Christ’s messages of love to this world.  Allowing ourselves to be continually shaped and renewed and redressed by the awe-inspiring moments of the incarnate God we continue to celebrate.

So I ask you again, what are you wearing into this new year?  As for me, I chose love and I hope you will too.  Amen.

[1] Edwin & Jennifer Woodruff Tait, “The Real 12 Days of Christmas,” Christianity Today, August 8, 2008,  https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/real-twelve-days-of-christmas.html

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