The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – November 30, 2014 – Advent 1: Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37
Well it’s that time of year when we’re becoming more conscious of what we put on.
Maybe not the opening line you’d expect in an Advent sermon, but let’s just admit this right up front, “What should I wear today?” is on your mind – maybe not this minute but maybe once a day these holiday approaching days? At least several times a week between now and Christmas you wonder about this, I know it. Even those of us who find comfort in not worrying too much about fashion are asking these important questions this season.
This wondering can be as practical as the common, “Should I put on my boots today? Hat, mittens, scarf?” Or, “Should I throw on my rain jacket today?” Then there are those mornings on which an even deeper seasonal wrestling surfaces and you wonder aloud, “Is this a Christmas sweater day for me!?” Which then morphs into something like, “Should I ever wear that Christmas sweater?” And then, “Do I even still have that Christmas sweater?” Or if you teach school maybe the question sounds more like, “What can I wear that in NO WAY indicates that we are approaching Christmas so as not to trigger the countdown that already looms mightily in the every-minute-consciousness of small children?”
On a slightly different note, maybe you put a wreath on your door at home, and set out the Advent calendar and candles this weekend. Or maybe you helped dress the church this week. Thank you, Altar Guild for decking us out in blue to remind us that we’ve entered the season of Advent. Even as church this season, as people of God this season, we are invited to be intentional about what we put on.
And if you need a little help, if “What do I wear?’ nags at not only your body but your soul too, the collect this morning, the opening prayer of the season has a recommendation for us. As luck would have it, right here in this morning’s liturgy there’s some theological advice on what’s appropriate dress for the season Advent: “Cast away the works of darkness,” we were told, “and put on the armor of light.” Put on the armor of light. Hang up other options for a while, Advent people! Set aside all of the other possibilities and put on the armor of light.
Which isn’t very armor like when you think about it. Armor is what you put on to defend yourself, right? To keep things out? Like when knights or other warriors would head in to battle, they’d put on suits of armor in order to not get wounded, in order to not get hurt. They’d clothe themselves in the heaviest material they could physically carry in order to stop anything from getting in. That was the point of armor afterall, to keep the inside safe from the outside.
But light of all things provides very little protection, really. It’s permeable for heaven’s sakes. Arrows pass right through it. Words do too. Sound, and objects, and people pass right through light. And here’s something interesting, color doesn’t even have to pass through light because every color of the rainbow and more are right there in light. Light contains color. And to top it off, light moves pretty quickly. It’s made of waves so it’s not the most solid of substances we could put on this season.
Put all of this together and it becomes clear that protecting ourselves is obviously not the point of this kind of armor. Keeping the inside safe from the outside is not what we’re about as people of God. So being “awake” or being “alert” is different than being on guard.
So what does an armor of light look like and what’s its point? Does it look like vulnerability? Transparency? Does an armor of light look like hope? Does it have a glow? Is part of its point to allow the wearer to give and to receive without digging through a whole bunch of layers? Is an armor of light revealing more than it is protective? Reconciling, or restorative more than it is victorious? I have so many questions!
So let me shift a little, contextualize this whole conversation a little more and ask what putting on an armor of light might look like in Ferguson Missouri. Because the people of Ferguson are on our minds and our hearts this week too. In a situation where people on every side have been made to believe that self-protection, or even protection of those closest to them is the only and most important option, what does putting on an armor of light look like there?
And just so that we don’t make this only about Ferguson, we need to let it be about us too. We live in one of the most racially segregated states in the country. In just about every study that comes out, Michigan is consistently at or near number one on a list that it’s not a point of pride to top.
And so I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the “armor of white”. We have to name that for some of us in this world, our outer layer functions that way. We who are white were born with an outer layer of advantage and protection not afforded others. Which is unfair and unjust and harmful, all the way around. Now I realize that these issues are very complex, and we need to talk a whole lot more about them, and listen a whole lot more to them than we can in the sermon this morning. But today, if nothing else, we’ve been called to recognize that our outer layers matter. And in our country, we’re being called to that same recognition.
So what does an armor of light look like in Ferguson and in Chicago and in Detroit and in Holland, Michigan? Does it look like hope? Does it promote the kind of mutual, shared vulnerability that heals? Does it state in its very presence that reconciliation and restoration are viable alternatives to having to choose from the dangerously limited options of either self-protection or self-destruction?
We can certainly imagine an armor of light, even if it takes lots of different forms. We can imagine a different way of clothing ourselves in this world. In fact I think that on so many levels, we’re longing for it.
But here’s the real real kicker: Even if we want it, even if we can see it, who gets dressed up first?
I think that in some ways that’s the biggest challenge, no matter the context. We can lay out the most painful and difficult of human realities: situations in which communities, entire countries are being devastated by Ebola – domestic cities and towns wrestling with poverty and homelessness, racism, inequalities and various kinds of injustices – even households struggling with various kinds of divisions as the season exposes the good the bad and occasionally the ugly of what we’ve got going on . . . And the temptation in all of these situations is to put on the armor we know well, the comfortable, protective gear that keeps the outside from getting in or that allows our outside layers to privilege us in some way. The temptation is to put on armor like knights used to wear into battle.
But being awake and being alert, is different than being on guard.
So who gets dressed up first?
The answer is that we do. We have to. As Christians this is the gift we have to give the world this season as we wait and long for something new to come into being. Advent calls us to make a fashion statement on a grand and glorious scale! In Ferguson, Missouri. In Holland, Michigan. In the face of disease and battles of all kinds, self-protection is not the primary, communal goal of people of faith. And self-destruction should never be the only believable option, for anyone.
Salvation is what this season is about, salvation of all people in all the world. Salvation that is wholeness, that is peace, that is the holy restoration for which we long. Salvation that comes at strange hours, through unexpected people, at unplanned moments. That is what what we are called to wake up to, to be on the look out for. Salvation that looks like reconciliation and contains in itself the light of hope.
But we can’t receive that grace or share it if the armor itself is a barrier.
So, put on an armor of light, Grace Church. It won’t work like the armor we’re used to. This armor is permeable to the needs, the hungers, the graces, the joys, the pains of this world. It contains all colors and proclaims that a new creation is on its way. This is the gift we have to give the world this season. It’s time to get changed.