Sunday, December 16, 2012

Dressed for Joy (Sermon 12/16)

Isaiah 61:1-11

How many of you know the adage, “Wear clean underwear, because you never know when you’ll be in an accident”? While I do not want to know how many of you follow that rule, I suspect many of you think about what you wear each day. Am I dressed or ready for the car to break down? Am I dressed or ready if I had to sit for a while and wait? Am I dressed and ready for walking around the store, getting gas, watching a toddler, changing a tire, having lunch with a friend?

This is a question I ask myself all the time. Especially as the number of clothes I have that fit begins to dwindle, I ask myself, “Is this what I want to be wearing for a hospital visit? For an emergency call? For pastoral authority in the office?” Sometimes I’m not dressed, or I don’t feel like I am, for what I need to do.

On Friday, after the initial shock of the news out of Connecticut, I was thinking about opening the church into the evening for prayers. When I decided to do that, I was wearing jeans and a sweater. A fine outfit for sitting in the office and writing a sermon, not what I wanted to be wearing when we were opening the church and I was talking with the people who came in and out all day. “I’m not dressed for this”- I kept thinking. What I really meant was- I’m not ready. I’m not prepared for this.

This is not the first time this has happened. Someone here once told me- it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, just show up. Good advice, but I know I’m not the only one to whom this happens. How many of you felt overwhelmed this week- either by the season, by events, or by memories? How many of you have had a call during the day or in the night- for which you weren’t dressed, for which you weren’t ready?

Thus, in considering that the third Sunday in Advent is Joy Sunday, I don’t feel dressed for it. If we had colored candles, this would be the pink one (the others being blue or purple). Joy Sunday! And that’s what the task that the prophet Isaiah delivers to Israel and that is also communicated to us, as our task, through Jesus. It is our task to seek joy, to be found by joy, to communicate joy.

Isaiah says the role of the prophet, which is now the mantle that goes over all of Israel and extends to all who live by faith is this: The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to provide for those who mourn in Zion --- to give them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.  (61:1-3)

Do you feel dressed to do that? To declare the year of the Lord’s favor? To bring good news to the oppressed and to comfort all who mourn? Do you feel ready to proclaim joy?

Joy is not happiness. It is one of the fruits of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness)- not something we can produce ourselves, but something that God brings forth in us. Joy has the twinge of the fight, of how far it took to get there, it is hard earned and treasured. Joy is the light that shines in the darkness and shines that focused beam, making us aware of how dark things can be. How can we be ready for joy? How can we be ready to proclaim it? How do we dress for this?

The only way to be dressed for joy is to be clothed in Christ.  To be clothed in the experience of weeping at the death of a friend, to know betrayal, to have eaten good-bye meals, to have people turn away from grace, to feel forsaken… and to still taste resurrection, to still hope in return and restoration, to trust in the possibility of peace, to rest in the light of Love. 

The only way to be dressed for joy is to be clothed in Christ, clothing which comes with all of these experiences, the accessories of faith, if you will- the very real experiences of this very real life.  Joy is not the absence of suffering, but the presence of God.

            I cannot tell you why bad things happen. I cannot tell you that we will live to see the good that God will bring from some of the tragedies of our lifetimes. I cannot undo the exile of the Israelites and I cannot redo Friday with a different outcome.

            God is not the “why” of tragedy and devastation. God is the how- the how we get through it. God is the where- consoling to the grieving, receiving the dying, walking with the confused and afraid. God is the who- the One who made all things and loves all creation. God is the when- a mystery to us, but a promise of renewal and bringer of unexpected joy. God is the what- the what we shall wear, the what we shall say, the what we shall turn to.

            When there is no “why”, there is a Holy Who/Where/How/When/What that clothes us in grace, that dresses us in mercy, that accessorizes us with joy. We come as we are to God’s dressing room- the baptismal font, Holy Communion, a conversation with a friend, a time of prayer- and we are draped in Christ.

            What do you wear to do that proclaiming, to be a priest of the Lord, a minister proclaiming God’s favor (as Isaiah says you are)?

            (Make the sign of the cross). You wear the sign of the cross and…

There! You’re dressed for proclamation. You are wearing the promise of the Holy Spirit, the mark of Christ crucified and risen, the symbol of hope for the whole world. You will never be more ready to bear joy. You will not find anything that fits you better. There’s never been a more graceful fit, a closer fit, a more beautiful shape. The cross is the clothing we’ve got… its emptiness, its inability to be the final word, its attempt to stop the Word of Life… it is how God dresses us to go out into the world. The sign of the cross is our clothing for grieving and for rejoicing, for sorrow and for joy. The sign of the cross is our Christmas sweater, our Easter suit, our Epiphany workout clothes, our Pentecost learning outfit, our clothing for waiting, for hoping, for proclaiming.

            It is Advent and we wait. We wait for a great deal, including joy. But we’re dressed for it, when it comes. Saved and clothed in righteousness by Christ’s own faithfulness, we are dressed to heal, to share hope, to be a part of the work of the kingdom. In the midst of tragedy and hope, we are dressed, in the cross, to seek and to be found by joy. Amen.

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