Sewing the Armor of Light
“Mom, can I look at your buttons?”
“Yes, dear, you can play with the button box as long as you clean up what you spill.”
“Today on Oprah, a breakthrough in healthy weight loss.”
“Merideth, don’t let the twins put buttons in their mouths, they might choke. Whitney, come over here and let me hold this up to you. I think you’re having a growth spurt.”
“Okay. Mom, why can’t I have white like Maggie’s dress?”
“Because you look so pretty in green. And look at this beautiful lace for your collar.”
“I want beautiful lace too! Mooommmm!”
“Merideth, your dress will be lovely, and do not make me ask you again to keep those buttons away from the twins.”
These were the sounds of Advent to me when I was a little girl—the sewing machine churning every afternoon after school as we orbited around the magical creations coming to life on the dining room table.
Each year my mother sewed five Christmas dresses, one for me and each of my sisters to wear to Christmas Eve church services. She would use the same basic pattern for every dress, but each girl had a different fabric and some unique touch to make us feel special.
Raising five girls on just my father’s small university professor salary meant that five new storebought dresses were not an option, but we all knew that our homemade dresses were better anyway.
There was great anticipation each December as we awaited the unveiling of this year’s pattern and Mom’s choice of fabrics and colors for each of us.
We felt not only dressed-up but also very grown-up coming down the stairs on Christmas Eve to have our pictures taken by Dad before going to church, hair curled, tights and patent leather Sunday shoes at last located and struggled into, and sashes primly tied.
It was a well-known fact that Santa Claus was much more likely to visit little girls who managed to get from the house to the church without getting dresses dirty, hair mussed, or younger sisters crying from somber predictions of coal in stockings.
Church at night! Such a strange excitement.
Then, much trotting through the parking lot amid clouds of breath, decorously divesting of coats in outside the parish hall, and following the scents of evergreen and wax candles to the nave.
We made a solemn little procession to any pew big enough to seat all seven of us, and whoever was unlucky enough to enter first had to sit all the way smushed against the stained-glass window that leaked cold air like a freezer.
But there was an advantage to the cold spot—it was far away from watchful parental eyes expecting obedient attention to hymns and sermon.
Here, one could reverently spread the folds of new green satin, preen over one’s lace collar, and then close one’s eyes and listen as hard as possible through the church sound for sleighbells.
It was very, very good to be quite the prettiest seven-year-old at St. Paul’s Church wearing this gorgeous new dress from which one could clearly feel the love sewn into it.
It was enough to make one feel sad that the Baby Jesus never got to wear a new Christmas dress, but probably his mom would have made one if there were a sewing machine in that barn he was born in.
I was instantly transported back to this yearly-enacted Advent and Christmas ritual of my family when I read St. Paul’s words to the Romans today. “The night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…let us put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
St. Paul and I have a complicated and rather stormy relationship that sometimes results in hurt feelings and days of sulking when provoked by writings on women in the church, etc.
Furthermore, as a worldly Christian and professional Episcopalian of thirty-one years, I have rather given up on finding anything about the basic gospel message surprising or new.
Imagine my shock, then, to find cranky old St. Paul giving me words that filled me to bursting with the same breathless magic I remembered from girlhood Advents.
“You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”
That’s amazing, that’s awesome, that’s…that’s Good News!
I think I just got the Good News proclaimed to me.
Because these days, Advent doesn’t sparkle quite so much for me, and I imagine for some of you as well.
There are no new dresses sewn with love, no looking for an extra bright star in the sky, no widening of the eyes with awe upon learning that God has come to earth as a baby.
These days, Advent is filled with long lines of harried Christmas shoppers and angry cashiers driven half-mad by blaring carols.
Advent means trying to minimize the political fallout of which set of in-laws is put in which guestroom.
Advent means trying to decide which must-have toy will least exacerbate the violence the kids are bombarded with on TV and videogames.
Advent means at last finishing cleaning up the kitchen after supper after a long, cold day, and trying to massage away the headache as the war and famine haunting the world remind us with every grim news report that for many, many people on this earth, peace on earth and goodwill toward men is a bitter and hollow promise.
Perhaps Mary felt something of this failing hope as she forced her heavily pregnant body on the rough roads to Bethlehem for the census.
Have I been abandoned by God?
Was the angel’s proclamation a lie or a figment of my imagination?
Do I have the strength to see this through?
The answer for Mary’s question about her strength is the answer for us: yes.
Yes, we do have the strength to keep believing in tomorrow’s miracles, because this is Advent.
“Salvation is nearer to us now than when we were first believers.”
The one who is coming is called Immanuel, God With Us.
And this God who is with us is not just in the neighborhood or in the building.
This God is closer to us than even our own clothing.
This God is our armor of light. We have put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
When the pressures of the pre-Christmas season are about to do you in, stop for a moment and take a deep breath. Close your eyes and picture yourself clothed in the armor of light, a golden glow hovering over you from head to toe.
This is the presence of Jesus, shutting out the noise and chaos and bathing you in peace and love.
And I’m not just painting a pretty word picture here, I’m totally serious. I honestly want you when you’re sitting in your car or vacuuming your house or walking into a meeting at work, to stop and feel yourself clothed with the armor of light, with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Thomas Merton said there is no way of telling people they are walking around shining like the sun.
Well, I say there is, and you are.
There is more to this armor of light than just shielding us from stress.
Someone who is covered in light is going to illuminate the path for everyone.
Someone who is taking these moments of meditation throughout the day is going to radiate the true peace of the season, and that inner light is going to stick in people’s minds.
Someone who is boldly claiming this blessing of putting on the Lord Jesus Christ is going to be the person about whom others say, “How does he do it?” “I must ask her what her secret is.”
And then will come the moment for you to be an angel, to proclaim the Good News to the accidental seeker.
And here is something else about the armor of light.
While it may protect us from some things, it is not iron or steel or brick.
Someone wearing the armor of light is vulnerable to the truth.
Light will shine on the dark places and make visible the poor, the oppressed, those crushed by war and enfeebled by neglect.
Jesus will not shield us from the pangs of our hearts newly healed enough to love others.
Advent is, after all, about birth, and birth cannot happen without painful labor.
So maybe most of us are past the desperate anticipation of Santa and the cheerful disregard of what the world is really like outside the decorations and carols.
But even when we join Mary in a hurting body and frightened mind, we are journeying with her toward bringing a gift into this world, a gift which will in the end heal all of us, rich and poor, old and young alike.
If that were not Good News enough, we are upheld and strengthened every step of the way by the armor of light, cradled and cherished by our loving God because we have the chance to put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is very, very good to be quite abundantly blessed pilgrims of Advent.
I think I’d even be willing to say that green satin and a lace collar takes second place to being clothed in Jesus Our Light.