The Beautiful Garment
  • Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Third Sunday of Advent

Isa. 61:1-4, 8-11• Ps. 126 [or Can. 3; or Can. 15]
1 Thess. 5:16-24 • John 1:6-8, 19-28

Isaiah contains a mission statement for Jesus’ work, and, by extension, that of his holy Church (Luke 4:18-19): good news to the oppressed, bind up the brokenhearted, proclaim liberty to the captives, release to prisoners, the year of the Lord’s favor. This work is not, however, a human project. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” the prophet says. Emphasizing the transcendence of the gift and its application to the people, the prophet speaks of a divine vesturing: “garlands, oil of gladness, a mantle of praise.” Vested outwardly, the people experience an inward grace that produces fecund foliage for the healing of the nations. “They shall be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, to display his glory.”

And what are we to say of this vesting and this blazing glory? What has God done to us? In our time we have been reminded by the very great Hans Urs von Balthasar (in The Glory of the Lord) that “Beauty is the word that shall be our first. … Our situation today shows that beauty demands for itself at least as much courage and decision as do truth and goodness.” Is it not an arresting image, our being vested in beauty and being beautifully alive in the world? Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to your name we give glory.

The second lesson requires a deep meditation on the indwelling of Christ, for it is that life alone which makes the following demands bearable: Rejoice always! Pray without interruption! Give thanks for everything! We have no strength within ourselves to do this, and so we are told this is not a matter of our will or determination. It is, rather, the voluntas Dei in Christo Iesu (the will of God in Christ Jesus). The 18th verse tells us that this will is “for us,” and yet, noting that the most common use of the Greek preposition eis indicates “entrance into,” we will want to recall that the will of God is not simply an external demand, but something that enters into us and unfolds by degree. Alluding to the first lesson, we might be said to “put on Christ.” Once we are wearing our sacred vestments, the will of God in Christ converts us from within so that we will to do what God demands.

Finally, we have the story of John, who came to bear witness to Christ the Light. Those who came to John were sprinkled or immersed in water. Again, an outward sign! Did they strip off an outer garment, march into the moving stream, and then, having been cleansed, put on their clothing as new persons? This is, in any case, what we do in baptism. We have a baptism in water, but that baptism is done in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So we wed our very lives and souls to the risen Christ. We have been baptized into Christ. He abides in us and we in him. We will never, I pray, presume to be what he is by nature, but we certainly are what he is by grace. “Being therefore ‘partakers of Christ,’ you are properly called Christs” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogical Catechesis). In a more muted tone, let us at least confess without shame that we are sons and daughter of the Living God in union with the One Eternal Son of the Most High.

Look It Up
Read Isaiah 61:31. God will give your sacred crown, fragrant oil, mantle of warmth.

Think About It
Your vestment is called pallium laudis pro spiritu maeroris (a cloak of praise instead of a spirit of sorrow). You are wearing it.

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