Dressing to the Nines for Christ

A sermon based on Colossians 3:12- 17
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on December 29,  2013*
by Rev. Scott Elliott

There are twelve days of Christmas on our church calendar and so we are still in the Christmas season as we gather this morning on the 5th Day of Christmas. So let me wish you a Merry Christmas!

One our family’s favorite Christmas movies is “A Christmas Story.” It’s a delightful film about Ralph, a nine year old boy at Christmas time.    In one scene Ralph, who day-dreams of heroic grandeur with the gift of a Red Ryder BB gun, opens on Christmas morning not a BB gun, but a present his mother and aunt want him to have:  one piece pink fluffy bunny pajamas complete with huge ears and a cotton tail. Ralph, is to say the least, very disappointed with the suit and then much to his horror (and our delight as an audience) he has to try the pajamas on in front of his family.

I cannot recall a gift-incident that was that bad for me as a child, but I do remember as a kid especially not liking it when I opened a present that turned out to be clothes. I selfishly, and I must admit ungratefully, wanted a football or a toy or a flashlight, something fun!  At the time all I could think was “Ahh man, what fun are clothes?

As an adult I now very much appreciate the clothes I get at Christmas; and, of course looking back I also appreciate now the clothes I got when I was young, as well as those that relatives have sent our children.   Clothes are a good, reasonable, thoughtful and time-honored gift. They can be fun too.

As churches go UCCer’s are pretty informal regarding church attire.  Casual is as fine as “dressing to the nines,” after all Jesus wore sandals. I think that is great. It reflects not just a progressive theology and open door, but our cultures more lax dress codes.   I have noticed, though, that despite our casual approach to clothing, at Christmas more of us tend to “dress to the nines” when we go to church. It’s part of the holiday tradition, it’s not mandatory by any means, but it is for many of us fun.

I did a little research on where the saying “dressed to the nines” comes from. Apparently there is much debate on the topic and no one knows for sure. Some think it’s related to the nine yards of fabric needed to make a suit.  Others think it eludes to the nine Muses of Greek mythology, dressing to them, in a fashion suitable for the gods.

Another theory has it – and this is my favorite– that it’s called “dressing to the nines” because nine is the highest single-digit number, and so it symbolizes the best or highest one can achieve.  I like this idea because it fits nicely with Paul’s instruction in the reading this morning to put on our best, to metaphorically dress to the nines with the right bearing and approach to life.

Paul can be heard to basically ask us to put on nine things in today’s reading, nine things to make sure we go out into the world with each day garbed fully as Christians.      These are nine garments that the Christmas season already has us wearing most, if not all, of the past four weeks. Our wearing them  has made the world a different place over the Christmas Season, a world focusing on God’s call to peace on earth good will to all.

The trick, of course, is to not change out of those better garments we’ve had on, but to wear those nine things all year long. That is what Paul can be heard to instruct us to do in the text this morning.

The Fifth Day of Christmas is the gift in the “Days of Christmas” song that stands out the most in the song. . . “On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to (join in!) FIVE GOLDEN RINGS!”      The five golden rings are the only gift in the song that a person wears, so it seems fitting to discuss the nine things that Paul tells us to wear today.

As I list them consider how by and large at Christmas time WE WEAR THEM (!); but also keep in mind Paul is instructing us to wear them every day!  Here’s how Paul advises Christians are to dress to the nines: #1. Put on Compassion. #2. Put on Kindness. #3. Put on Humility. #4. Put on Meekness. #5. Put on Patience. #6. Put on Forgiveness. #7. Put on Peace of Christ. #8. Put on Thanks. And #9 above all, put on Love.
Dressing to those nines is the best we can dress to bring about the promise of humankind – the call to peace on earth good will to all. The promise of Christmas (and Easter and the Gospels for that matter), the promise of peace and hope and joy and love that comes from wearing those nine garments.

If we approached life with those nine things draped on our beings all year long (like we just did all month long) the very in-breaking of the Realm of God will be experienced all the more.  From January to December the world needs more Compassion, Kindness, Humility, Meekness, Patience, Forgiveness, Peace of Christ, Thanks and Love. Paul’s telling us that it is our job to get those bits of Christian apparel on for our sake, for the world’s sake, for Christ’s sake.
I liked the way Dan read the scripture today.

    I am going to re-read a couple of portions and some surrounding text from a different version of the Bible, a paraphrase I’ve read from before; THE MESSAGE by Eugene Patterson. Rev. Patterson’s words can help us understand what Colossians means for us today. He uses different words to describe the list of nine things but the gist is the same.  Here it is . . .

So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides.
Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ–that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.
Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life–even though invisible to spectators–is with Christ in God. He is your life.
When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up, too–the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
And that means killing off everything connected with that way of death: sexual promiscuity, impurity, lust, doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it, and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy. That’s a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God . . .
It wasn’t long ago that you were doing all that stuff and not knowing any better.
But you know better now, so make sure it’s all gone for good: bad temper, irritability, meanness, profanity, dirty talk.
Don’t lie to one another. You’re done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire.

Can you hear Paul telling Christians that before they can get dressed to the nines (as I have been calling it) they need to get out of their old clothes first?  Makes sense, right?   It doesn’t really work to put on a coat and tie or nice dress over dirty clothes, like soiled coveralls. So, Paul tells Christians to remove from their person the things of their old life that get in the way of the lovely new trappings they now don.
Paul suggests we discard our old duds that get in the way of the new ones. He lists some of these old things like: 1. Focusing on material goods. 2. Seeking fame.     3. Sexual improprieties.     4. Doing whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it.5. Grabbing whatever attracts our fancy.    6. Having a bad temper. 7. Irritability. 8. Meanness. 9. Profanity. 10. Dirty talk.11. Lying.

The reason Paul gives for getting rid of the old-in-the-way things is that Christians are (and I am quoting from The Message)  “done with that old life. It’s like a filthy set of ill-fitting clothes you’ve stripped off and put in the fire.”
In The Message Paul is reported to go on to say:

Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it. All the old fashions are now obsolete.
Words like Jewish and non-Jewish, religious and irreligious, insider and outsider, uncivilized and uncouth, slave and free, mean nothing. From now on everyone is defined by Christ, everyone is included in Christ.
So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, [meekness], [patience].
Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.
And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness.
Let the Word of Christ–the Message–have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense. And sing, sing your hearts out to God!
Let every detail in your lives–words, actions, whatever–be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.  (“The Message”)

From January to December the world needs more of what the reading today calls Compassion, Kindness, Humility, Meekness, Patience, Forgiveness,  Peace of Christ, Thanks and Love. Paul’s telling us that it is our job to get those bits of Christian apparel on for our sake, for the world’s sake, for Christ’s sake.

This year as Christmas unwinds let’s not hide our Christian apparel in the closet until next year. Compassion, Kindness, Humility, Meekness, Patience, Forgiveness, Peace of Christ, Thanks and Love ought to be worn by us from now until next Christmas.   Let’s follow Paul’s advice and dress “to those nines” – our very best– all year long . . . all the rest of our lives.
Peace on earth good will to all!

And again I say, Merry Christmas!

* This sermon is based on a sermon first given in 2010 and was inspired by a song and music video by Rev. Dr. Christopher Grundy. His song is called “Garments of Love” and here’s a link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrwgUSLWBGw .  Of course Jesus and Paul inspired me too!