12 Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. 14 And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 The peace of Christ must control your hearts–a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. 16 The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him. (CEB)
Clothe Yourselves With Love
I don’t know why it is, but sometimes getting a child to change their clothes is one of the most difficult things a parent can do. Granted it isn’t all the time, but there are moments when a parent telling a child to change clothes seems, at least in their minds, like an exercise in lunacy.
What do you mean put clean clothes on? These are clean. I just put them on yesterday morning. They’re just now getting good and warm. Wasn’t Mommy complaining about the laundry? Can’t you see I’m trying to help you guys out?
There must be something comfortable about wearing soiled garments that I’m missing as a parent. I remember one time I told my son to put clean underwear on. I even got the underwear out and laid it on his bed. So later, when he came out of his room, I asked him if he put the clean underwear on. And he nodded his head.
Later that evening, when I was helping him get ready for bed, he took his pants off to change into his pajamas. Low and behold, he was wearing two sets of underwear. He had put the clean underwear on over his old underwear. I mean, I had to laugh. Technically, he did exactly what I told him to do. He put clean underwear on. But it didn’t do him any good to leave the old stuff on beneath it.
This is kind of what Paul is talking about in Colossians 3. In the first several verses, he tells us to put aside the bad stuff: sexual immorality, moral corruption, lust, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry), anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language. He tells us not to lie, to take off the old human nature with its practices and put on the new nature by conforming to the image of God.
Then, in verses 12 through 17, Paul talks about clothing ourselves in clean garments. Unlike my son, Paul knew we need to remove our dirty clothes before we put clean clothes on. The metaphor of clothing is kind of cool because, in part, this is something we must do. It’s an external thing. If we’re cold, we can put on a sweater. And yet, another part of it is something God does. When we put on a sweater, we get warm. It’s an internal thing. We don’t cause the warmth, but putting the sweater on sure helped.
But how do we go about changing our clothes? How do we suddenly put off these old stinky garments for clothing that’s fresh and clean? How do we clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience?
In part, that’s the point of Christian spiritual disciplines. The regular practice of spiritual disciplines such as worship, studying the Scriptures, prayer, receiving the sacraments, serving the poor, fasting, visiting the sick and imprisoned, giving to others with generosity, they all open us to God in powerful ways. The practices begin to shape who we are.
I love visiting Saint Meinrad Archabbey. It’s one of those beautiful places where God’s presence just seems to hang in the air. The monks understand something about spiritual disciplines that the rest of us find difficult to perceive. They live out the liturgy of the hours, which is a set of specific times each day for worship, prayer, Scripture reading, and singing. But, instead of trying to understand the texts they read through argument and debate, they receive the Scripture into themselves so that it shapes who they are. The way they pray is shaped by Scripture. The way they think is shaped by Scripture. The way they speak and interact is shaped by Scripture.
Their lives are so inundated by the spiritual disciplines that the words and ideas within the Scriptures become their words and ideas. They are shaped on the inside by what they practice on the outside. Only it isn’t just monks. This is how we’re shaped, too, whether we realize it or not.
What are the practices that shape us? In essence, they’re the clothes we choose to put on. We are God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved. So what are we doing? Are we clothing ourselves with compassion?
As a sort of test for that in today’s fear-filled circumstances, what do we think of when we hear a phrase like Syrian Refugees? Does our reaction include thoughts of coldness, suspicion, and cruelty, or compassion, acceptance, and kindness?
What do we do when we disagree with each other? And I mean serious, bare-knuckled disagreement. Do we act with humility, meekness, and patience? Do we bear with one another and forgive each other? Or do we hold on to grudges and let open sores fester until they eat at our souls?
Paul demands that we forgive each other. As the Lord has forgiven us, we must forgive.
We pray the Lord’s Prayer in worship every Sunday. Its words were given to the disciples when they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. It’s a beautiful, yet dangerous, prayer. Sometimes we don’t realize how dangerous the prayer is simply because of the way we pray it. Our wording is archaic, and the cadence we use tends to separate parts that ought to go together. There’s one part in particular that we chop up into two pieces, but it’s really one. “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
You see, there’s an expectation of newness, both within the Christian community and within individual Christians. Jesus teaches us to pray by saying forgive us as we forgive. Essentially, we’re asking God to forgive us in the same measure that we forgive others. How can we expect forgiveness if we fail to forgive?
Forgiveness is a much more significant thing than we want it to be. We want forgiveness to be casual. We want it to be easy. Sometimes we even want to be able to say we’ve forgiven someone while still holding on to our grudges. I mean, if we can tolerate to be in the same room with the person while still disliking them intently, we want that to be good enough. But forgiveness is really about reconciliation. If forgiveness doesn’t lead to reconciliation—most especially between fellow Christian people—then we may not have truly forgiven.
The test for true forgiveness is love. That’s the next thing Paul mentions. We’re told to clothe ourselves “with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14, NRSV). If someone in the church causes us offense, or if we have a complaint against them, can we say that we honestly love that person? If we’ve forgiven them, then we’ll be reconciled. If we’re reconciled, then there’s nothing stopping us from loving. Our relationships should be that of brothers, sisters, and friends. Our relationships should be bound together in perfect harmony.
Paul tells us to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts. You see, Christ calls us to peace. The Prince of Peace doesn’t bear that name for no reason. We’re called to peace in Christ’s name. We’re called to have peace with one another, and we’re called to have peace with the world.
When we forgive one another, when we’re reconciled to each other, when we love our neighbors and live peaceably, it’s then that we’re able to offer the truest of worship to God. It’s through worship that the word of Christ dwells in us richly. Our communal worship allows us to teach and admonish one another with wisdom in such a way that we’re not beating each other over the head. We do it through love and care. It’s through worship that we sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.
It’s through worship that we are able to live lives that are incarnational. That’s another thing we can learn from monastics. Everything we do, everything we say—even the stuff in the mundane daily routines of our lives—everything can be an act of worship. When our work and our speech is done in the name of the Lord Jesus, when what we do and say become acts of thanksgiving to God, it’s then that we’ve truly learned to worship the God of our salvation.
Jesus was born among us to be Emmanuel, God-With-Us. He came to redeem us, and his work enabled us to be reconciled to God. A true celebration of Christmas means that each of us allow Christ into our hearts in such a way that Christ’s love, patience, kindness, compassion, humility, meekness, forgiveness, harmony, and peace becomes ours.
It requires repentance. It will require a metaphorical change of clothes. We’ll have to lay aside our dirty garments and put on what’s clean. When we practice these things as individuals, as a community of faith, and as we reach out in this way to the world around us, they become who we are. The hope of Christmas is that these things become the very air we breathe because these things are of Christ our Lord.
May the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.