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. 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.
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give. You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
My daughter is home from college on Christmas break which means that I have been enjoying watching some of our favorites — “The British Baking show,” “Love Actually” and of course — “Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress.”
Are you all familiar with “Say ‘Yes’ to the Dress?” It is about a really fancy bridal shop in New York City. Brides-to-be make an appointment and then show up with their most trusted friends and family. They are settled into a fancy lounge while the bride is taken into a dressing room where the staff has her try on dress after dress as she, her friends and family and the staff search for the perfect one.
The compelling dynamic of the show is the struggles the bride and her entourage have with the gap between the ideal that the brides has in mind, and the dresses that are being presented to her. The stakes are high and there is a fair amount of pressure – one has just so much time at this fancy bridal shop and the perfect wedding is dependent upon the perfect dress.
As you can imagine, this show can be a pretty entertaining. But it can also be rather sad. The quest for the perfect dress is not without its drama. Tears and temper tantrums abound.
By the end of the show, whether the bride has succeeded in finding the perfect dress or not, I find myself rather worn out, and left wondering “why in the world does the bride, her family and friends put themselves through all that?”
But that is what we do. Don’t we?
We may never have visited Kleinfleds or we may never have had the occasion to shop for that perfect wedding dress. But I do think we know what it is to feel the strain of trying to obtain an ideal. We know what it is to strain to find that perfect job, or obtain that perfect look – We know what it is to pin our happiness on some future aspiration, convinced that “it’s” acquisition will make us complete somehow.
And there is another dynamic at play in all of this. We have a hard time saying “yes” to what it is that is right in front of us because of relatively new psychological syndrome that seems to be emerging with great ferocity in this time of information saturation and social media connectivity. This syndrome is known by its acronym FOMO – fear of mission out. What makes it so hard for those brides on my show to say “Yes” is that while that may like the dress they have on perfectly fine they are worries that there may be something better on the very next hanger.
This fear of missing out stirs a deep restlessness in us. We find it very hard to be simply where we are because something better, or more important or more interesting, may be happening somewhere else, and so we grab our phones and scan social media to see what we may be missing. And while we may not succumb to tears and temper tantrums we never the less can find ourselves suffering from a deep dissatisfaction where we are no longer content where we are and yet not fully able to obtain what it is that we think is out there somewhere.
It is into this swirl that Christmas comes. It is here that Jesus meets us. This is the mystery and promise of the incarnation, what was made manifest in Jesus birth, and that is that the power and presence of God is not out there somewhere just beyond our reach. The glory of God is not breaking forth in a place where we are not. We are not missing out on anything. The gift that Christmas reminds us of year after year is that all we need is already here. God has already said ‘Yes’ to us. God dressed God’s self in human flesh and walked among us so that in doing so all fresh would remember that before we do or achieve or acquire we are already clothes with garments of salvation.
That does not mean that there are not many problems in the world and much injustice to be taken on. But it does mean the solutions to them lie not out there somewhere, but right here right now. All we need is already seeded in what we have. A future of redemption, and wholeness and life is not out there somewhere. It is here, now.
Isaiah sees this and seeing it, he sings:
“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.”
Isaiah sings his “yes” not because of something he has done or obtained. Isaiah sings not because he has had a successful shop at the 6th century BCE equivalent of Kleinfelds. No, Isaiah sings because he has eyes to see God’s work already at work all around him and says “Yes!” to that.
“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.”
Isaiah knows he is part of this great incarnation of God and he trusts that the same generative force of love and life that stirs the natural world is alive in him as well. So he sings his “Yes!” that echoes down through the ages to us now.
This is the same “Yes” that is on the lips of Simeon and Anna as they look at Jesus as see in the Christ child that the future they have been hoping for had arrived. It was now. Within that moment of beholding Jesus, all was made complete. Nothing was lacking. And nothing is lacking still.
Now I can say this here in the beauty of this sanctuary, but I know it is really hard to live it out there. Out there it everything seems lacking and it is much easier to turn from each moment than really enter into it. We may conceptually understand that the path to wholeness and healing lies not over there somewhere but that it lies right here calling us to enter into each moment ever more fully. But how do we actually live it?
Recently I encountered a modern day prophet. His name is Theo E.J. Wilson. He is an activist and writer. He is also a black man and a survivor of police brutality. His best friend, Alonzo Ashley he tells us also encountered police brutality but did not survive. And in the wake of his friends death, Wilson says he started to blog. He spoke his mind about what he was seeing and experiencing. This was in the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement.
And on the TED stage, Wilson talked about how amazed he was by how much attention he was getting, not just who felt his voice was their own but also by many who hated him. To these trolls, he said, he wasn’t a human. He was an idea, an object, a caricature.”
What Wilson did next I find very compelling. Instead of shutting down or turning away, Wilson entered into more deeply. He wanted to try to understand these people who seemed to hate him so much. We wanted to know why. And so he went undercover. And so what he did was to go undercover. Instead of being repelled by and dismissive of these who at best he did not understand, he wanted to know them better. And so he created an online presence in the alt –right community.
And what he discovered surprised him. He said that one theme that he kept encountering in the arguments of the alt right was this idea of why should I be hated for who I cannot help but be? Wilson said and I quote “Now, as a black man in America, that resonated with me. I have spent so much time defending myself against attempts to demonize me and make me apologize for who I am, trying to portray me as something that I’m not, some kind of thug or gangster, a menace to society.” He said that this realization awoke in him “Unexpected compassion.” He continues saying “Now, you’re probably surprised by this perspective, and so was I. Never in a billion years did I think that I could have some kind of compassion for people who hated my guts. Now, mind you, not enough compassion like I want to be friends. I don’t have infinite olive branches to extend to people who, like, would not want to see me on this planet. Right? But just enough compassion to understand how they got to where they are.”
Staying in the moment and entering into it is what this prophet, Theo Wilson is showing us. It is not about looking for what it the best out there but entering into the mud and mire of what is and finding there the pearl of great price.
So I wonder if during this Christmas season we could take up this practice of saying ‘Yes.’ ‘Yes’ not to a distant ideal but to what is before us right now. What if in the next week we challenges ourselves to pay attention to where we are. What if we were to notice those times when we find ourselves longing for something different that where we find ourselves? What if instead of seeing our reflection in the morning and wishing we looked different than we do, what if we paused and gave thanks for what is? What if we found ourselves recoiling from someone or something beginning a cascade of judgment and condemnation, what if we stopped and entered in more deeply with curiosity and even compassion? And as we do, perhaps we can say a prayer. Something simple like “Christ enter in.”
This is what the ‘Yes’ of Christmas bids us do. So let’s enter in!
Thanks be to God. Amen.