Saturday, December 29, 2012

Fashion Sense

As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. (Colossians 3.12)

A Clean House

There is a great Southern tradition that encourages entering the New Year with a clean house—not merely a neat one, but a clean one. In the days leading up to the holiday, many Southerners take stock of all they’ve accumulated over the past year and decide what’s worth saving and what isn’t. They dig through cupboards, discarding stale items shoved into the corners. Old magazines and loose papers of no lasting value get tossed out. They inventory their closets for clothing they’ve ignored—or had no use for—during the past 12 months. Getting rid of outdated stuff makes room for new blessings. It’s an exercise in creating clarity, the means to free oneself of unnecessary encumbrances.

Now, to be perfectly honest, I’ve never known anyone who followed this custom all the way through. It’s a massive undertaking that demands enormous energy—usually in short supply coming on Christmas’s heels. But the tradition remains compelling because its intent focuses one’s thoughts about the New Year. It raises important questions about what we carry with us, along with what we don’t need, as we move forward in time. While we may not have the wherewithal to purge our homes of a year’s worth of obsolete rubbish, we can surely find time to survey our lives. Are there stale ideas cluttering our cupboards? Are we hanging onto things with no lasting value? Are our closets crammed with unbecoming attitudes and habits we should be relieved of? Entering the New Year with a clean house is a wonderful thing.

The Ugly Stuff

A big part of our trouble with letting go useless—and often detrimental—things we’ve taken on springs from not knowing what will replace them. If I discard unproductive resentments, anxieties, prejudices, and memories I’ve clung to, what’s left? Something in us fears looking at a severely thinned-out closet. Yet Sunday’s New Testament reading (Colossians 3.12-17) presents an enviable wardrobe of new fashions for the taking. In verses 12-14 we read, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” The long list of desirable clothing the writer names—compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love—is extremely helpful in two ways. First, it tells us what should be in our closets; it calls out attitudes and behaviors that define the faithful believer’s style. But it also identifies what shouldn’t be left hanging around. Anything that contradicts or compromises the qualities it describes must go. There’s no room in our closets for injustice, cruelty, pride, aggression, impatience, resentment, and hatred.

Of course, such negative traits are ugly things—too ugly for most of us to imagine ever wearing in public. But they have a way of creeping into our wardrobes because they’re all too common in fashions we see every day. They’re like trendy clothes we’ve worn in the past, donned under pressure to appear “stylish,” only to look back once the trend has faded and see how hideous and unflattering they really were. What’s more, if we’re not thorough in our resolve to toss out the ugly stuff, it tends to turn up in trivial accessories that detract from an otherwise attractive style. All it takes is a funky belt or scarf or set of earrings to throw the whole look off. What seems subtle and inconsequential at first becomes glaringly gauche. Anything that clashes with Colossians’ classic Christian look puts us at risk of ruining God’s reflection. The tiniest lapel pin can be a dead giveaway that our witness isn’t what it should be.

Wear What We Are

The style that Colossians urges us to adopt is hardly haute couture. It’s not an elitist fashion that costs more than we can afford and makes statements about our social and economic standing. Indeed, the Colossians collection is ready-to-wear, or as French designers call it, prêt-à-porter—literally, for the taking. (US merchants call it “off the rack.”) As God’s children, these qualities are readily available to us. They’re styles that we can easily understand and emulate, having experienced their grace and beauty through Christ’s power. Being recipients of God’s compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love, we know what they look like. We know how well they work together, bound, as the writer says, in perfect harmony. We know the joy they bring, how appealing they are, and how well they fit us.

The call that arises from Colossians challenges our intentions. Will we embrace a classically Christian fashion sense that mirrors all that Christ offers us? Or will we settle for quickly outmoded trends and funky touches that diminish us? Will we persist in being slaves to worldly fashions or will we clothe ourselves in keeping with our identity as holy and beloved children of God? Personally, I’ve never put much credence in the adage “you are what you wear.” But the Colossians writer invites us to view the notion in reverse, encouraging us to wear what we are.

I pray we all take time to inventory our closets during these closing hours of 2012. May we enter 2013 with clean houses and wardrobes filled to overflowing with attitudes and behaviors becoming to God and us.

Happy New Year!

Colossians urges us to adopt a classic Christian look that is becoming to God and us—and the New Year presents a prime opportunity to inventory our wardrobes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

A Christmas Poem

Tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. God will be our Guide forever. (Psalm 48.13-14)

God, our Maker and Minder,
You bring us to the manger and show us
The full extent of Your love—
Its fragile humanity
            Heard in the hushed beats
            Of a tiny, newborn heart
Its uncontested divinity
            Witnessed in blinding majesty
            As time’s curtain divides

To reveal You fast at work
Delivering on pledges made long, long ago
To a people whose only Hope was You—
Their one and only God
            In a world of many gods
            And many, many excuses for inventing gods
Their one and only Truth
            In a time of fearful imaginings
            And convenient falsehoods

We gaze into a barnyard crib
At glittering dark eyes
That already know all that can be known
Yet long to learn from us
            To see through our eyes
            To search our hearts inside out
Eyes to pierce our veils of pride and illusion
            Finding us in our despair and discontent
            Looking beyond our boasts to uncover our banality

We touch the tender olive skin
Of peace and love made real and ready
Eternal Word woven into timebound flesh to live with us
Here, now, always, forever—alive in us
Flesh come to die in our stead
To rid us of remorse
Flesh come to conquer death
            On our behalf, triumphant
            To rid us of resistance

At manger-side, we glance into the stares
Of exhausted young parents
Greatly relieved their secret
Can now be told—and will be told
            Again and again and again and again
            In language any child can understand
A secret so simple and pure
            That we will tell it over and over
            Struggling to comprehend how it can be

O God, our Maker and Minder,
In kindness, You made us and now
You have made Yourself like us
Gathering a family of choice
            A new people of welcome and trust
            A new lineage of unsurpassed love and grace
You, the Child, invite us to become Your children
            To begin again and find a new way
You alone can carve in us

You, the Child, smile knowingly,
Hold out Your tiny, not-yet-scarred hand
And say

Follow Me.

                                                —Christmas, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012


He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God… and he shall be the one of peace. (Micah 5.4-5)

Apocalypse Now

So the Mayan apocalypse of 12/21/12 has gone the way of all end-of-the-world predictions. The planet is still spinning. We’re still alive and kicking. It’s business as usual. For most of us, it’s no surprise. We knew not to put any credence into this latest far-fetched scenario. And we know, sooner or later, a new one will surface. Someone will forecast yet another space-time anomaly that portends global doom. We’ll chuckle at that, too, and when it turns out to be a bust, we’ll chuckle at the next one and the one after that.

Although we scoff at doomsday predictions, our laughter reveals something we should seriously consider. Poking fun at apocalyptic notions exorcises our anxieties about them. Something inside us—something we can’t quite reach and disarm—insists the whole thing could come crashing down around us at any moment. (It only took one meteor to wipe out the dinosaurs.) And somewhat perversely, I think we find a degree of comfort in the possibility that All Of This might suddenly end with a big bang. Keeping the planet alive and peaceful is hard work. The constant toil and conflicts of everyday life wear us out. And I suspect a few of us may have been disappointed that 12/21 came and went uneventfully. Apocalypse now is the weary soul’s way out.

Prophetic Vision

In Advent’s steady ascent to the manger, a very specific sort of weariness sets in. We can’t sing hopeful hymns and recite promises of salvation without registering how greatly we need hope and saving. Our world is in a sorry state that trickles down into our everyday lives. With so much of what affects us beyond our control—nearly all of it headed the wrong way—it’s no wonder that we greet apocalyptic panic with cordial ambivalence. But the prophets constantly remind us the antidote for weariness isn’t looking for a cosmic cataclysm that will sweep away all of our troubles. We combat weariness by placing our trust in God’s creative power to make something new. As the light of Christmas dawn breaks through Advent’s night, Scripture beckons us to embrace prophetic vision that looks beyond human deficiencies to see a God of limitless possibilities. War and violence are precursors to peace. Injustice and hatred set the stage for mercy and love. Despair delivers hope. Sorrow gives way to joy. Christ’s birth heralds the birth of all that is good and right in us. Lest weariness overtake us, the Nativity enables us to know that nothing is impossible for God.

This God of infinite possibilities can only be found in our darkness and chaos. It is from there that God speaks and works wonders. It is in the despair of night that prophetic vision sharpens its focus and sees what God is actually doing. Sunday’s prophetic text (Micah 5.2-5) calls to us from a world shrouded in hopelessness, discord, and looming defeat. Assyrian invaders have trampled the northern half of the Jewish kingdom. Pagan cults have infiltrated the nation’s faith life and the erosion of belief is evidenced in the corruption of civic and religious leaders. Apocalyptic doom is on the up-rise. But Micah sees light breaking through the chaos and darkness. “This is not the end,” he declares. “It’s the beginning.” He compares this season of violence and injustice to childbirth, urging the people to push ahead. There is no time for weariness. A Savior is coming. “He shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth, and he shall be the one of peace,” he promises. (Micah 5.4-5) A New Order will rise out of the nation’s wearying confusion, oppression, and self-destructiveness.

The Newborn King

In the coming days, we will sing, “Glory to the newborn King!” And in that song we should exercise prophetic vision that sees Christ for all that Christ is. The lowliness of Jesus’s birth is wreathed in majesty—not of the pompous, ceremonial kind, but of certain power and authority that makes all things possible. Our Savior, Who chose to live among us as one of us, is the One of Peace. God comes to us not as a tyrant placing undue demands on us, but as a gentle Shepherd, Who watches over us and feeds us. God reaches us in our darkness and chaos, because that’s where God’s infinite possibilities reside.

May this Christmas overflow with prophetic insight that illuminates the majestic hope, joy, love, and peace that is born to us and lives in us. May we exchange our weariness with the world for the invigorating glory of our newborn King.

God’s infinite possibilities reside in our darkness and chaos.

Postscript: “Come Darkness, Come Light”

A couple of years ago, I put together a little video to Mary Chapin Carpenter’s lovely ballad, “Come Darkness, Come Light.” I’ve posted it before. But I’m reprising it as my Christmas prayer for all of us. Have a joyous celebration!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Still Waiting

It is for you, O LORD, that I wait; it is you, O Lord my God, Who will answer. (Psalm 38.15)

With so few days to go—and so much to get done in those few days—Advent’s charm wears thin. The waiting metaphor is likely to be greeted with a curt “I get it.” The poetry of deep nights and lowering cold and the bright star hung high in the sky grows redundant. The hymns of hope and expectation start feeling a little desperate: how many Sundays can we sing invitations to a Newborn? The carols—early arrivers, one and all—have already got tinny and hollow sounding.


What little time we have for pondering gets bargained away. A winter storm screws up travel. A sold-out gadget sparks hours of searching to find it elsewhere. Late-breaking additions to the guest list unleash a flurry of adjustments, reworking everything from sleeping arrangements to cookie quantities.


We think we have no more time left to wait, even though we really have no choice. And somewhere in our final bursts of energy and to-do-list panic we have to reckon with that. We’re still waiting. We will be kept waiting until the Child arrives. Nothing we can do about it. We can play with the schedule every which way till Tuesday, but it won’t be Christmas until Christ gets here. We wait, not on a date—but for a Savior, Who will come to us at the appointed time and not one moment sooner. In Advent, there is no “almost there.” It’s about getting to where “there” is—to the place where Christ is born in us anew and afresh. Everything up to that point is, well, waiting.


In The Westminster Collection of Christian Prayers, John Bell prays:

You keep us waiting. You, the God of all time, want us to wait. For the right time in which to discover who we are, where we are to go, Who will be with us, and what we must do. So thank you… for the waiting time.

So to honor Him
When we come