“What Will You Wear?”
December 27, 2015
(First Sunday after Advent)
By John Partridge
Scripture: 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26 Colossians 3:12-17 Luke 2:41-52
This morning I want to share a story that I first heard on the Radio while listening to Dr. Ravi Zacharias who had, in turn, borrowed it from Marie Chapian. In her book, Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy, Marie Chapian told of the sufferings of the true church in Yugoslavia where so much wrong has been perpetrated by the politicized ecclesiastical hierarchy. That which has gone on in the name of Christ for the enriching and empowering of corrupt church officials has been a terrible affront to decency.
One day an evangelist by the name of Jakov arrived in a certain village. He commiserated with an elderly man named Cimmerman on the tragedies he had experienced and talked to him of the love of Christ. Cimmerman abruptly interrupted Jakov and told him that he wished to have nothing to do with Christianity. He reminded Jakov of the dreadful history of the church in his town, a history replete with plundering, exploiting, and indeed with killing innocent people. “My own nephew was killed by them,” he said and angrily rebuffed any effort on Jakov’s part to talk about Christ. “They wear those elaborate coats and caps and crosses,” he said, “signifying a heavenly commission, but their evil designs and lives I cannot ignore.”
Jakov, looking for an occasion to get Cimmerman to change his line of thinking, said, “Cimmerman, can I ask you a question? Suppose I were to steal your coat, put it on, and break into a bank. Suppose further that the police sighted me running in the distance but could not catch up with me. One clue, however, put them onto your track; they recognized your coat. What would you say to them if they came to your house and accused you of breaking into the bank?”
“I would deny it,” said Cimmerman.
“‘Ah, but we saw your coat,’ they would say,” retorted Jakov. This analogy quite annoyed Cimmerman, who ordered Jakov to leave his home.
Jakov continued to return to the village periodically just to befriend Cimmerman, encourage him, and share the love of Christ, with him. Finally one day Cimmerman asked, “How does one become a Christian?” and Jakov taught him the simple steps of repentance for sin and of trust in the work of Jesus Christ and gently pointed him to the Shepherd of his soul. Cimmerman bent his knee on the soil with his head bowed and surrendered his life to Christ. As he rose to his feet, wiping his tears, he embraced Jakov and said, “Thank you for being in my life.” And then he pointed to the heavens and whispered, “You wear His coat very well.”
And so we begin this morning with the understanding that as we “put on Christ” we are not only the hands and feet through which Jesus does his work on earth, but we are also identified as Jesus and as the church for the other things that we do.
Our Old Testament lesson this morning is found in 1 Samuel 2:18-20, 26, where the boy Samuel, promised to God by his mother, works in the Temple alongside the priests.
18 But Samuel was ministering before the Lord—a boy wearing a linen ephod. 19 Each year his mother made him a little robe and took it to him when she went up with her husband to offer the annual sacrifice. 20 Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife, saying, “May the Lord give you children by this woman to take the place of the one she prayed for and gave to the Lord.” Then they would go home. 21 And the Lord was gracious to Hannah; she gave birth to three sons and two daughters. Meanwhile, the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.
26 And the boy Samuel continued to grow in stature and in favor with the Lord and with people.
Each year, Samuel’s mother, Hannah, made him a robe and took it to him when she went to the Temple to worship for the annual sacrifice. It was important to Hannah that, even though Samuel was still a boy, he would be dressed like the priests that he worked for every day. It was important that Samuel wore the clothing that identified him as belonging to God.
In a very similar story, Luke 2:41-52 tells us of Jesus’ family making the very same sort of trip, the annual visit to Jerusalem for the sacrifice and the celebration of Passover. In this case, however, the clothing that Jesus is putting on is figurative and not literal.
41 Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. 43 After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.”
49 “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them.
51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.
Mary and Joseph had to be nearly frantic with worry. Their son, a twelve year old boy, was lost and alone in the biggest city in the nation.
Jesus was found sitting among the teachers, listening and asking questions and his only reply when confronted was to ask, “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Although his parents didn’t yet understand, Jesus knew that the time had come for him to begin putting on the clothes that had been prepared for him by his heavenly father and not just those of his earthly parents. Jesus knew that it was time for him to start acting as if he belonged to God and not only to Mary and Joseph.
This is exactly the sort of thing that Paul is teaching us in Colossians 3:12-17.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Paul says that because we are God’s people, because we are holy and dearly loved, then we should put on the clothing that marks us as being on God’s team: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. We are called to stand out because we wear the clothing of forgiveness, love, peace, and thankfulness. We should be known as people who teach with wisdom through our reading, our songs, and who live lives that are genuinely grateful. What we do, and how we live, is the coat that we wear. We are called to wear the clothing that distinguishes us as the followers of Jesus Christ because when people know that we follow him, just as in the story of Jakov and Cimmerman, they will identify Jesus with the things that we do. The people who have never met Jesus will believe that he is the kind of a person that his followers are, that he will act the way that we act.
And so we are called to live in such a way that when we meet Jesus, he can say to us…
…”You wore my coat… very well.”