John 1:6-8, 19-28; Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 – Dressing Points to Skin and Solidarity
Caitlin Trussell for Augustana Lutheran Church on December 14, 2014
[sermon begins after these three Bible readings]
John 1:6-8, 19-28 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.
19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said. 24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 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; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 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. They will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
8 For I the Lord love justice, I hate robbery and wrongdoing; I will faithfully give them their recompense, and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 9 Their descendants shall be known among the nations, and their offspring among the peoples; all who see them shall acknowledge that they are a people whom the Lord has blessed. 10 I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. 11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise the words of prophets, 21 but test everything; hold fast to what is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil. 23 May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.
Like many of you, my family has a few traditions when dressing up our home to get ready for Christmas. The first part of our tradition is to panic a bit about when we’re going to get started. This year it’s especially delayed because I went to California for a few days to go see Mom and Larry right after Thanksgiving. So, for now, Advent candles sit in a wreath on the dining room table and one of my favorite Nativity sets in the living room. Eventually, there will be a tree with white lights and a few other treasured family mementos. Things like the kitschy plastic, “stained-glass” Santa with the green beard. And things like the silver tinsel star taped together on the frame of a bent-up wire clothes hanger. All these things in our home point to the birthday of the one was birthed in skin and solidarity among us.
Here at church, we have traditions of dressing up the sanctuary to get ready for Christmas, too. Trees and stars and the blue cloth to convey the sense of hope during Advent. Today we include in the mix children dressing up to sing and point us toward the one who was birthed in skin and solidarity among us. And this evening we include the in the mix the Chancel Choir and Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra whose dressed up music and singing also point us toward the one who was birthed in skin and solidarity among us.
Isaiah does his fair share of dressing too:
“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; 2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; 3 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.” It’s important to note here that Isaiah talks about a garland, oil, and mantle specifically using those things to dress the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the prisoners.
Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton is elected by the people of the ELCA denomination of which this congregation is a part. She extended an invitation made to all churches by the historic American Black Churches. Their invitation is to dress in black clothing today as a sign of solidarity. Given the short notice, some of us are dressed in black and some of us aren’t. Some may be excited to respond to the invitation. Some of us may be relieved we didn’t know about it to have to make the decision whether or not to dress in black.
Regardless, the language of solidarity used in the invitation from the American Black Churches is an important one. Solidarity is not sameness. Solidarity is reaching out to connect through difference. Solidarity is relationship across difference even if it’s not entirely clear where we’re all headed together. Make no mistake, in solidarity or not, we are in this creaturely existence together. Perhaps we are even here in this place for such a time as this to see what might be possible in solidarity rather than separation.
Dressing in black clothing points us and other people towards the ones with whom we are in solidarity. This is just one way to do it. There are many. Dressing up our homes, our churches, and ourselves to get ready for Christmas points to the One who dressed in skin to walk in solidarity with us. This is just one way to do it. There are many.
John, the man sent from God in our reading today, is someone who understands his job of pointing. John says, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.” This is not a self-esteem crisis. Rather it’s a declaration of John’s clarity. Nope, not Elijah, not the Messiah, not the prophet. His simple, “I am not,” is the negative declaration to all those “I AM” declarations by Jesus in the Gospel of John. John is telling them to stop asking him for answers. As John is pointing them to the One who is the answer.
We dress our homes, our churches, and ourselves to do all this pointing. In the meantime, first and foremost, we rely on God’s act of solidarity to walk on the planet in the person of Jesus. We do not create the solidarity with God by dressing up; God creates the solidarity with us by showing up. God dresses us.
God dresses us. Isaiah puts it this way, “ I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my whole being shall exult in my God; for [God] has clothed me with the garments of salvation, [God] has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
These are the clothes of freedom, my friends. Because when God dresses us there is nothing to fear. In the clothes that God gives, we can walk around the mall or sit at our sports events or in these pews or even around our kitchen tables and marvel that God loves ALL of those people too. In the clothes that God gives, we can walk into worship and be held accountable through confession that we have not loved those people as we love ourselves. In the clothes that God gives, we can walk out of here forgiven and free people who are accountable to those people because God showed up in skin and solidarity with us and for us…for the sake of the world.
As Paul writes to the Thessalonians, may you also receive this blessing, dressed by God…
“May the God of peace himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do this.”
 Isaiah 61:1-3
 ELCA – Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. “Evangelical” is an historic term that means “good news” at its simplest. “Lutheran” is a strand of the Christian church that was inadvertently kick-started by Martin Luther’s reform attempt of the Church in the 1500s.
 Karoline Lewis on Sermon Brainwave for Third Sunday in Advent 2014 at WorkingPreacher.org: https://www.workingpreacher.org/brainwave.aspx?podcast_id=565
 Isaiah 61:10
 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24