Take off the garment of your affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God. Baruch 5:1
At the moment, I’m wearing a pair of fuzzy pants and a fuzzy sweater. They are soft and warm. Oh, and I have on a pair of floppy socks which are thick enough to double as house shoes while I am sitting at the desk, though I wouldn’t wear them as far as the kitchen. I have soft fuzzy shoes for that. I like these clothes, but I will not wear them to church tomorrow.
Tomorrow I’ll wear my shiny rain boots. There will be other clothes, sure. But, the wardrobe will center around the rain boots. It seems as if it will never stop raining.
There are lots of garments to choose from. Even though I didn’t come to Shanghai with many clothes, I’ve managed to accumulate an assortment of pants, sweaters, shirts, jackets, and scarves… I love a nice scarf. So, I put on and take off garments as seems appropriate, and I generally get it right. There was one time when I went all day with a sweater on wrong side out, but that was a one-off. Usually, I do alright.
One of the good things about my garments is that they are fairly easy to change out. I’ve got the usual assortment of buttons, zippers, and snaps. But a lot of it just slips on and off with no mechanical gadgetry at all. I can change from work clothes, to gym clothes, to lounging clothes as easily as a chameleon changes color.
Today’s reading asks us to take off some garments, the garments of sorrow and affliction; and to put on the beauty of the glory of God! I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I’ve got that in my closet, nor am I sure I know how to operate the zippers and buttons on that sort of thing. We are taking about different kinds of garments now.
Let’s not pretend that we don’t sometimes “put on” for one another. I’ll go first and just admit it. I’ve got lots of things I can “put on”: My pearls, my Texas accent, or my Chinese “face.” They all project some kind of image, and most of the time there’s nothing wrong with putting on. It’s a natural result of having self-awareness. You’ve probably known people who put-on a little too much, though. Those poor dears are pretty easy to spot. They are the ones who put on so much that they are hardly themselves anymore.
Not all of our garments are front and center, though, are they? Some garments are closer to the skin. We keep them private, maybe we even hide them. Sorrow and affliction don’t always match the mood of this joyful season, after all. That old garment of humiliation that you’ve been wearing like a second skin, and the shame that’s so tight it cuts off your circulation are the antithesis of Joy To The World. I think a lot of us would really like to get out of those garments of sorrow and affliction, but those garments don’t just slip off. The buttons are bigger than the button holes, the snaps are rusted shut. Sometimes the zipper on shame gets stuck. What’s a child of God to do?
Another of the readings for today offers some hope.
The reading is in Malachi and it tells us that it is possible to be refined, to be cleansed of all that is not part of who we really are. That’s hopeful, but it s not going to be easy. See, you and I don t get to be the refiners. We are the gold being undone by the heat, poured out into someone else’s mold, helpless. We are not in control, we don’t know when it will end, and there are no guarantees that it will end the way we want it to.
I once went to a museum exhibition about gold. It was very comprehensive. The part I remember most clearly, though, was the refining part. They showed how gold was taken out of the earth, pretty dirty, and refined until it was pure. The finished product — ingots, in this case — was so shiny, it really had a depth of luster to it. But I noticed that there was something else. Each ingot had a little rough patch, a place that wasn’t slick and polished. I noted to my friend that refining leaves a bit of a scar.
I don t know what being refined would be like for you, but I do know this: If you decide to let the refiner have you, and your sorrow, and shame, and the ten thousand humiliations of this life then you are likely to come out shining, just like the gold I saw at the museum that day. You might even get a garment that is the beauty of the glory of God. But, I warn you, there will be a mark. It leaves a scar.
You were made to wear glory clothes! Beautiful garments that reflect the life that God has put in you.
Today, as you light the second Advent candle, ask yourself what the light might reveal, what it might burn away, and how you might be changed during this Advent season.
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China
Image: Advent 2 from WikiMedia Commons.