I think we all have a clear understanding that clothes speak about us. Uniforms – military or ecclesiastical – medical or retail – police or judiciary – remind the wearer and the observer that the person is part of something – an organisation or group – and depending on what markings, labels, insignia exist we generally know what role and responsibilities the wearer has and therefore our relationship with that person.
We associate people and clothes – occupationally but also personally – so that if we see people in strange clothes we immediately notice and wonder what’s going on.
So if I wear an English rugby jersey you would all be very curious! You expect me to wear a Wallabies rugby jersey. The first one seems ‘wrong’ – out of place – ‘what is he up to?’ – but the second one seems ‘right’ – appropriate – expected!
What clothes does God wear?
Art usually depicts God in finery and glory. We think: what do kings wear? And then we ‘up’ it a lot!
Yet when God came to earth, the heavenly messenger said: This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:12)
This is hardly what we expect. Firstly, that God would come among us is big news – scary news – for we are no longer in control when God is obvious and near. Secondly, that God arrives as a baby is unusual – we expect him to ‘beam down’ ready for action, step onto the world stage as an adult in all his finery. Thirdly, that the baby lies in a feed trough seems strange, definitely unexpected, even ‘wrong’ – what is going on? – and this is compounded fourthly, by his clothes – cloths in which he was swaddled – wrapped tightly – but there is no hint of finery and fancy stuff. Here we met God and he looks like one of us – well, how we might have looked at birth – poor, nondescript, dare I say it, ordinary – and this is simply not encouraging to many people if you are going to add the word ‘God’ to these clothes.
It gets worse, I suppose, when you consider that this baby – Jesus – when a man suffered an execution that robbed him of his clothes – soldiers even gambled for them – and he died. Mark Twain once quipped: ‘Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.’
Normally I might agree with Twain but not today. You see Christmas begins a message that only became known because there was a cry that ‘Christ is risen!’ [He is risen indeed!] – the grave is naked! – and God has made peace with us, forgiven us, had mercy on us and calls us to follow him. And so today the account of this baby born for you begins the story of the man who will die and he did die for you. The Lord who rose for you has come to clothe us all in holiness and righteousness – and he keeps cleaning us and our clothes through words, water, bread and wine – so that we might live in God’s presence now and forever.
Those cloths and the cross are the marks of love to show us what God has done so that we might live with him, no matter what we wear.
- Luke 2:12 - 12