“Finding That Timeless Look”
“Finding That Timeless Look”
Psalm 148; Colossians 3:7-12
Dr. Bobby Hulme-Lippert
December 26, 2021
What is your most memorable Christmas gift from childhood? Anything pop to mind? A favorite toy? Or doll?
I remember when I was in middle school the big thing was windbreaker tracksuits.
Bright colors, baggy, really loud when you moved in them. These were a go-to clothing item. I did not have a multicolor windbreaker tracksuit. This was high on my list as someone trying desperately to fit in during those middle school years.
That Christmas morning Santa did in fact deliver the shiny blue tracksuit of my dreams complete with various red and neon yellow accents here and there.
I put it on, and could not wait for us to head out to grandma and grandpa’s house where we went every year and then show off my coolness to all of my cousins.
You could not pay me to wear that tracksuit today.
I shake my head thinking how eagerly I sought to get to Christmas brunch in my grandparent’s very nice dining room area and sit down in, essentially, a big reflective blue bag that made all kinds of sound anytime you moved in it.
Of course, every generation has this. You may look back at some of what was your generation’s ‘look ’and shake your head. Or marvel that it has come back in style.
The fashion is always coming and then quickly going. Finding a ‘timeless ’look is impossible.
Though that is precisely what Paul is aiming at in Colossians. A timeless kind of clothing – imperishable quality, enduring value.
“Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”
Closet staples in the church’s wardrobe.
From God’s perspective, the best-dressed person in the room of every generation is the one who pulls this is on each morning. In opposition to the articles of clothing too
readily worn in this world, and listed by Paul at the outset of our passage: “anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips, lying…”
In my own life, there have been seasons of my life, in fact, where part of my morning prayer is simply to put these on. To pray for God to clothe me in them for that day. And this has been a good practice but…before we get too far down that road, I don’t want to overlook the way Paul begins this list.
Because Paul does not begin with just listing these articles of clothing.
The sentence actually begins: “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved…”
“As those God has brought into the family of God, as those God has forgiven and sees as holy, as those God calls “my beloved.”
There is that foundational grace in which we live; which is our fundamental identity…yet it is so difficult to receive though isn’t it?
The reason I wanted that ridiculous tracksuit so badly is the same reason I wanted a Nike jumper the next year and a certain American Eagle shirt the next year…I wanted to be accepted among my middle school peers. To be thought worthy of noticing. To be ‘in ’with the right group or at least feel like it.
And while we outgrow the middle school version of it, we don’t outgrow this basic longing.
We may or may not chase the latest fashion, but we have a host of ways we try and show ourselves worthy enough, smart enough, strong enough, good enough – part of the right group – and perhaps also notably not part of that group.
Paul nods toward that issue in our passage where the church is tempted to talk about itself in terms of what group they are and are not… “Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free,”
Everybody trying to be in with and acceptable to somebody…and not seen as with or for or at all in any way related to others…
And into this jostling for acceptance, seeking an identity, creating our own in and out groups…into this Jesus has come.
In his letter to the Romans, Paul puts it this way: “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
- “Once we started to put on some of the articles of holy clothing
- “Once we started to be kinder to the other group…”
- “Once we started to show some progress in our ways…”
No….”While we were yet sinners, while we were still divided and searching, Christ loved us to the point of dying for us.”
Jesus embraces us in our mess. We have a place at the family table because of the head of the table has declared once and for all: chosen, holy, beloved.
Paul knows that if we are secure in that knowledge, if we know we belong no matter what, we know that, as Paul puts it, “Christ is all, and in all”… then we really just don’t care a whole lot about needing the next style or car or gadget or having the house perfectly put together or the social media post perfectly together or whatever things we think help us feel ‘in ’or acceptable.
And if we don’t have to care about all that stuff, if we trust ‘beloved’ is the final verdict upon our lives no matter what… then we are free to pull from the rack those timeless items that really matter when the family gathers at Christmas and the days thereafter: “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience”
I mentioned earlier that when I was growing up, each year on Christmas Day we would head over to grandma and grandpa’s place for lunch and gift exchange with my fairly large extended family.
As excited as I was about that whole experience, every year without fail we would walk through the door and there was stress.
Food wasn’t cooking right. Other food was behind schedule. Some family STILL had not shown up and the little kids were hungry and the adults were hungry.
And then there was the one or two adults who were famous for not helping out and that caused this unspoken but seething resentment for some.
Over the years, I learned which aunts and uncles and cousins were the stressful ones or the passive aggressive or the just plain aggressive.
And amid all that I also remember my aunt Beth. She is the youngest of my mother’s five siblings. She was always in the fray – cooking, helping with children, pulling together gifts under the tree, even kindly, strongly confronting the lazy tv watchers.
But my aunt Beth sticks out in my memory because I came to learn that she was the one who, no matter how crazy things got, she was grounded. Patient amid the fray. Even lovingly attentive. I still remember how naturally she always knelt to speak to me, look me in the eye, and smile amid all the madness.
I don’t really recall most of her style choices from year to year, except that she managed to pull patience from the closet every time.
In the moment, as a child, I did not recognize that as a gift. The stuff under the tree was the important stuff.
But looking back I readily see that given the general stress that seemed to congregate on Christmas day as the old family dynamics fell into place, patience was the gift of enduring value. It is one of those gifts that even today keeps giving because I am encouraged by it.
Maybe that’s what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 13 when he famously declares, “love never ends…” The stuff done in love has a way of carrying forth far beyond its inception.
As God’s chosen people, holy and beloved…. what would it look like to put that on an outfit that neither spoils nor fades? One of enduring quality that – in time – we come to see really is the best gift we give to friends and enemies alike?
What would it look like for us to wear compassion? “Com” = “with” and “passion” = “suffering.” What would it look like to share in the grief or anxiety or hurt of another and so witness to Jesus who was born fully “with us” and into our hurting world and loved us?
Or what would it look like to wear kindness – a benevolent disposition and action? The same disposition and action Jesus took when –while we were yet sinners, he died for us.
I cannot help but think of Desmond Tutu today, and his word on kindness: “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.”
Or what about wearing humility – and so shine forth something of Jesus who did not hold onto the splendors and riches of heaven but let go of all of that to come and be among us. To serve us to the point of death and, therefore, be raised. To whom is the Holy Spirit calling you to serve?
Or…instead of reactive anger, what is it to don gentleness?
Showing forth the Spirit of our God who is slow to anger and abounding in love – what is it to wear patience?
To wear each of these is to witness to the person of Jesus himself. To embody the presence of Jesus born among us.
And much as on that first day of Jesus ’birth when so few recognized the enduring beauty and significance, so too I imagine many of these gifts may not be readily acknowledged for their importance.
And yet in time, the attire I still remember is the attire of enduring value worn by my Aunt Beth. The story that still captures our heart after all these years is that of the Christ child and his way.
For that which is done in love never ends. Amen.
As God’s chosen, holy, and beloved people…we now have an opportunity to clothe ourselves in God’s timeliness fashion by way of prayer…