Why did you chose to wear the clothing you have on today?
Clothing is often about form rather than function. We want to look good, look appropriate. But clothing is also about function. Do you wear a uniform for your job? Or perhaps your employer or hobby requires you to wear clothing that makes the job or hobby easier. Football players wear all kinds of gear. Same for soldiers or people who work outdoors, or underground, or people who need clothing to hold tools.
Today we are talking about getting dressed and ready! But while we are going to talk a lot about clothing, we are not actually talking about clothing. This is our final sermon in our Advent and Christmas series following the readings from the Lectionary. Each week, we’ve been seeking the thread that ties all four passages together. Turn to 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26, for our first reading.
We are going deep into the history of the nation of Israel, in a period when judges ruled their land. By this time the nation of Israel had taken possession of most of the Promised Land of Canaan, but they really struggled to consistently and deeply follow the way of the Lord, and as a result enemies would attack and persecute them. The people would cry out, repent of their evil ways and God would answer by sending them a judge who would lead them to victory over their enemies. Today we are going to read about the very last of these judges, a prophet named Samuel.
In this passage we read about a time when Samuel was just a boy, serving in the tabernacle, and he had a uniform. The text says that Samuel wore a linen ephod. An ephod is a Hebrew word that refers to a kind of decorative apron that was worn over a robe. The high priest of the land also wore an ephod, which held the breastplate made of metal and decorated with precious gems. But those serving in the tabernacle, like Samuel, would wear a much simpler linen version. Still, Samuel’s ephod showed the role he played, a helper in the temple.
But who was this Samuel guy, and why in the world is a child away from his family and serving in the tabernacle? If you turn back to 1 Samuel 1, you can read the story in which Hannah, Samuel’s mother, had no children. She came to the tabernacle pleading with God to allow her to have a child, and she said that if God would give her a child, she would dedicate the child to serve the Lord. God gave her a child, and Hannah kept her word, dedicating Samuel to the Lord.
As you keep reading the story, Hannah is amazing. She made sure Samuel was dressed and ready to serve! Every year she visited him, bringing with her a new robe that she had made for Samuel. Hannah followed through on the promise she made to God.
The section concludes with a note explaining the Samuel grew in stature and in favor with the Lord and men. Keep that in mind.
That takes us to our next passage, Psalm 148. This psalm is pretty straightforward: over and over it says, “Praise the Lord!”
Did you notice any other repetition in the psalm? I’m not just talking about the word “praise him” over and over and over. I wondering if you noticed the structural repetition? There is a literary structure to the psalm, and the writer of the psalm crafted the structure very much on purpose.
Here is the structure.
A – verse 1a – Praise the Lord!
B – verses 1b-4 – List of things that should praise God: spiritual and physical heavens
C – verses 5-6 – Reason to praise the name of God: act of creation and promise
B’ – verses 7-12 – List of things that should praise God: all things on the earth, weather, land, animal and human.
C’ – verses 13-14a – Reason to praise the name of God: his name is exalted above all, and he raised up a horn for his people.
A’ – verse 14 b – Praise the Lord!
How might a psalm like this, filled as it is with so much praise, relate to our theme of being dressed and ready? Perhaps the compiler of the Lectionary had Isaiah 61 in mind? I can’t say for sure, but there is an interesting possible connection.
Read Isaiah 61:1-2. Does that passage sound familiar at all? It is the very passage the Jesus read from when, very early in his ministry, he stopped in to the synagogue at his hometown of Nazareth and read to the people from the Old Testament. Luke in Luke chapter 4 records that Jesus read only the first few verses, proclaiming that these verses were fulfilled in him.
What he reads to them is a description of his mission: to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives, to release prisoners from darkness, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s Favor. All that began when Jesus was born as a baby, which is what we are celebrating each Christmas! This mission of Jesus continues today as our mission. It is as though we are living in an extended year of the Lord’s favor, through the ongoing influence of the Spirit of God in our world, through the church. Look what God desires to accomplish through his Spirit-empowered church?
As you see, in verses 2-3 there is a reversal. God’s Kingdom is always about the great reversal. Thus sometimes it is called the upside-down Kingdom, because in God’s Kingdom there is comfort for those who mourn, provision for those who grieve. God gives a number of wonderful gifts to replace the darkness and pain of their lives: the crown of beauty replaces ashes, the oil of gladness replacing mourning, and then notice this last gift, the garment of praise that replaces the spirit of despair! There’s a connection between between praise and clothing.
God wants to clothe us with a garment of praise! In the midst of our despair, God wants to give us a new set of clothing, a garment of praise.
There is a great connection here, as well, to Hannah’s song praise in 1 Samuel 2:1-10. She was in the midst of great despair because of her lack of a child. God answered her prayer, and she bursts forth in praise to him. In the same way, at Christmas we burst forth in praise because we are celebrating how God entered into the darkness and pain and despair of our world, becoming one of us, Emmanuel, God with us, to save us and bring us hope.
Thus is right and good for us to praise God like Psalm 148 does. In fact Psalm 148 reminds us that every single thing praises God. What we find when we put on this garment of praise is that praising the Lord is transformative. It glorifies God when we praise him in the midst of difficulty. Just like Hannah did. That is what it means to wear a garment of praise.
This garment of praise brings us to our third reading, Luke 2:41-52. Does this story remind you of the passage in Samuel? Both boys serving the Lord in the tabernacle/temple?
There has been much scholarly discussion about this passage. In the first century Jewish world that Jesus grew up in, he would have gone to school like all children his age. But only the most capable students would study on beyond age 12. Those students identified with special gifts would then attend advanced rabbinical schools. Is that what we are reading about here? We just don’t know. I’ve read good arguments supporting the idea that Jesus went to an elite rabbinical school, and I’ve read good arguments against the idea. None of the Gospel writers mention anything about his life between this event and his baptism. It is regularly assumed that he just learned to be a carpenter, or mason, like his father Joseph. But the Gospels actually don’t say that either. We just don’t know.
What is quite clear, however, is that Jesus knew, even at the age of 12, his role in the mission of God.
Look at verses 46-47, for example. Do you see the verbs that describe Jesus? He was sitting, listening, asking. He was understanding and answering. Look at his response in verse 49. Many Bibles translate this passage as: “I had to be in my Father’s house.” Others translate Jesus as saying, “I had to be with my Father” or “I had to be about my Father’s business.” The point is, Jesus knew his mission! He was dressed and ready! Even at age 12. Those of you that are 11, 12, 13, or older teenagers, that means you can follow Jesus’ example at your age too! Of course we adults can as well.
Do you remember the final verse from the Samuel passage that I asked you to take note of above? 1 Samuel 2:26? The one that talked about Samuel growing in stature and in favor with God and man? Look at Luke 2:52! This is another excellent description of what we are talking about today. Young people, you are growing. In my home, we’ve had teenagers in our home for the past 8 years, and we have watched them shoot up, taller and taller. Just like Samuel’s mom, Hannah, visiting him every year to give him a new robe, our kids grow out of their clothes, and we buy them new ones. We want to keep them dressed and ready. But the description of Jesus and Samuel is more than just physical growth. They are growing in wisdom, and in favor with God and man. They were dressed and ready spiritually! Young people reading this, I especially want to ask you: as your body grows physically, how are you growing spiritually? Are you giving attention to your spiritual growth? You are old enough to read the Bible, think deeply about how God’s words apply to your life, and spend time talking with God or writing to him in a journal, seeking to change your life to honor him!
And that brings us to our final passage. Colossians 3:12-17. Throughout this last month, the Lectionary has taken us to a number of these short letters in the New Testament, almost all from the Apostle Paul to his friends in various churches. This letter is to the church in Colossae. Today, all that remains of Colossae, located in modern-day Turkey, is a hilltop that has yet to be excavated. In Paul’s day, though, there was a bustling city and Christians lived in it. So what did he say to them?
Look at verse 12. He tells them that because they are God’s chosen people, they need to see themselves as holy and dearly loved! They have a special relationship with God. This cannot be underestimated. It is so vital. You and I need to dwell on this. We are dearly loved. That is so evident at Christmas. God showed his love for us by giving us his Son!
Paul then says that our relationship with God means we should live a certain way, and look at the metaphor he uses: Clothe yourselves! Be dressed and ready! How are we to clothe ourselves? We already saw that we are to wear a garment of praise. But now Paul has a lot more clothing for us to wear: Compassion, Kindness, Humility, Gentleness, Patience.
Then he describes this clothing even more precisely in verse 13, “Bear with each other, Forgive whatever grievances you have, forgive as God forgave you!”
Are you dressed and ready? Are there any of these clothes that you need to put on?
Paul has more clothing for us in Verse 14, and this is the most important piece of clothing! “Above all [Put on] love, which binds all the previous quality in unity.
Then in verse 15 he describes this clothing even more: “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since you are called to members of one body, and be thankful.”
Paul is covering all he bases here. He has a whole closet full of clothing! Are you dressed and ready?
But there is still more: In verse 16 he says, “Let the Word dwell in you richly, as you teach and admonish, as you sing, with gratitude.” So verse 15 finished with a mention of thanks, and now verse 16 does too. Being thankful must be an important piece of clothing!
Paul’s wardrobe continues in verse 17. He says, “Whatever you do, do it all in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God.” Did you hear that? Thanks is mentioned again. In 15 and 16 and 17!
God is seeking to clothe you with his righteousness so that you are more prepared to serve him!
I recently heard the story of a woman was clothed and ready to serve.
Candice Benbow couldn’t sleep. Music was blasting from the apartment next door. Her neighbor would crank the music often, but on this night it went really late because he was having a Christmas party. At 3:30am she couldn’t take it anymore. So you know what she did? Get on the phone and call the cops? Nope. Go over there, bang on the door and yell at the neighbor? Nope. The passive-aggressive move, maybe? You know, just pound on the wall? Nope.
Benbow got up and decided to bake a cake. A pound cake to be precise. And she brought it over to her neighbor, and left it on his doorstep with a note.
Her neighbor, Tom Amaro, said that Benbow’s apartment had been empty for a while, and he didn’t know anyone had moved in.
Amaro got the pound cake, and soon after the music died down. In each of the next few nights, the music was also quieter, and then on the second day the two neighbors met.
Benbow said that Amaro apologized for the noise, promised to invite Benbow to his next party, and then said her pound cake was amazing! Amaro later said that he was so grateful Benbow didn’t take action like calling the police. Since that time, the two have become friends. They each realized that they were new to the area, and that the holidays were tough because of the memories of lost loved ones.
Showing that she was dressed and ready to serve, Benbow tweeted, “we never know what folks are going through and it is always best to lead with kindness. When we can extend grace, we really should.”
There is so much in this section of Colossians! Which part is God speaking to you about? Read it again slowly. Maybe read it every day this week. Is there a word or phrase that you feel God wants you to pay particular attention to, or work on in your life? Maybe his Spirit wants to transform you in that way in 2019. Because when you are dressed and ready, God will use you.