The Beauty of the Glory from God

Baruch 5:1-9, Luke 3:1-6

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.”

When I read that passage this week, I had this vision of someone flinging off a heavy garment that is weighing them down.

Baruch’s words are so compelling and yet I wonder – how do we do this? How do we take off the garments of our sorrow? How do we put on the glory from God?

I ask these questions because it has been a difficult week.

It seems like our hearts had just been broken by the deaths in Paris, Lebanon and Bagdad. Or was it Charleston?

Then I learned this week that 14 people killed in San Bernardino, California. It was one of the most deadly shooting in the United States since the one in Newtown, CT.

When I heard the news, my soul just became incredibly weary. I confess I am tired of having to preach about about violence and the ways that terror eats at our soul. I’m tired of people dying. I’m tired of shoot-outs. I’m tired of mourning and of weeping. And of losing my sisters and brothers too soon.

So this Scripture had special relevance to me this week.

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.”

How do we does this?

As I wrestled with this question, I found myself pondering the ministry of John the Baptist in the Gospel reading. John came “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”

The word repentance can be described as, “a turning around, a 180-degree change of direction, and therefore a change of mind.”

John and later Jesus call us to turn around.

I wonder if this is because they know we have tendency to run away and to hide our face?

With everything going on, sometimes it seems like it would be easier to stay home and hide under the covers — to run away from others and from God. To distance. To separate. To give up.

And in the midst of those urges, John says to us: turn around!

Yet turning around when we just want to run away is not an easy task.

Turning around involves opening our hearts and, as John reminds us, it involves forgiveness, both receiving forgiveness and doling it out freely.

I suddenly found myself struggling with John’s words as much as I struggled with Baruch’s words because I wasn’t quite sure how someone maintains an open heart or how one forgives in the midst of such sorrow and affliction.

Fourteen people died this week in California and I am supposed to forgive?

As I wrestled with the texts, I found myself talking to a monk this week who said to me – you know, I say Jesus’ prayer three times a day and it never gets boring. I never say to myself – been there, done that. Each time I say the words, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us,” it challenges me. Especially when there are people carrying around such vast amount of pain and engaging in such harmful acts.

The monk’s words caught me by surprise. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. These words never get old.

Suddenly, in the midst of my conversation with the monk, the image of the heavy garment of sorrow and affliction came back to me. I wondered how heavy it might be, how many layers it might contain.  I imagined how our shoulders sag from the weight of it. The image suddenly became oppressive to me – as if this cloak could close off our hearts and stop us in our tracks just from the sheer weariness of carrying the weight.

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.”

Perhaps what Baruch and John is calling us to do is to cast off this garment, opening our hearts to God and to the people around us. In opposition to running away, they are calling us to turn around, to turn toward each other, casting off the garments of isolation and despair and putting on the holy garments of love that come from God.

“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.”

The glory that is knowing we are cared for deeply.

The glory of God gathering all God’s children from the east and the west, drawing us together and making us whole.

The glory that is forgiveness.

The glory of opening our hearts and experiencing healing.

In closing, I want to share a story that I read recently in a newsletter from my colleague Rev. Mary Apicella that helped me exchanging my own weary garments for ones of peace. In the newsletter, Mary writes that, after the violence in Paris, France, a local news reporter’s interview with a father and his son got picked up by the international press.

The son, around 5 or 6 years old, had lots of questions about why so many bad things had happened and how could they protect themselves from so many guns.

The father responded, look at the flowers.

Flowers are how we respond to the guns – and lighting candles to remember the people who are gone.  Everyone putting flowers outside meant that hope and beauty and peace was still alive. The boy was comforted, and both the father and reporter had tears in their eyes.

Mary writes that, though flowers and candles cannot literally protect us from bullets and violence, they do speak to something deep within each of us.

Mary ends her reflection by writing, “This Advent, Jesus as the Light of the world is the Light that calls us to tend the spark that each of us holds as beloved children of God, and bids us to hold on to joy, hope, courage [and even forgiveness]. This is how the darkness is overcome: one light, one flower, one resolution to love, at a time.”

Mary reminds us that, even in the midst our sorrow, God is at work flowing healing into our world and into our weary souls and, in the process, calls us forth to participate in making all things new.

One light. One flower. One resolution to love at a time.

Turn around.

Open your heart

to the streams of ever-flowing life.

Come you who are thirsty!  Come and drink!

Amen.

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