“Clothes make the person,” they say. And to a great extent we believe it. Clothes are important. The fashion industry believes it, or at least wants you to believe that you are what you wear. I dress therefore I am. We can “dress for success” or for failure. Show up for a job interview in shorts and a t-shirt and you will likely fail to get a job. What we wear tells others something about ourselves. We use clothing to make a statement, to attract attention, to express loyalty and show solidarity. Uniforms tell others what we do. Jerseys indicate who is on your team. At the Rose Bowl on New Year’s day, you could tell where the Wisconsin fans and where the UCLA fans were sitting by the colors. Red on one side; blue and gold on the other.
Special occasions require special clothing. Black-tie dinners. Formal dances. Think about all the fuss that’s made over clothing at weddings. The groom’s tuxedo. The bridesmaid’s dresses. The bride and her wedding gown. More time and energy and money and attention are lavished on that dress than just about anything else at the wedding. There probably isn’t a piece of clothing that is doted over more than a wedding dress, worn for a few hours and then packed away, never to be seen or worn again.
The prophet Isaiah is literally singing and shouting for joy over his clothing. He is singing in the voice of Christ, and in the voice of a believer. “I delight greatly in the Lord, my soul rejoices in my God.” His cause for rejoicing is his clothing. “For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness.” God has clothed him with salvation and righteousness. He is decked out like a bride and groom on their wedding day. And that is cause for rejoicing and singing.
God has been in the clothing business since He first clothed Adam and Eve in the garden. After they grabbed for knowledge apart from God, they became self-aware and realized they were naked. They experience shame. They attempted to cover themselves with fig leaves stitched together, which is about as silly as it is scratchy. After flushing them out of hiding and confronting them with their sin, God covered them with animal skins. The skins came at a cost – blood sacrifice. The animal rights people are correct in this point. Clothing can be a bloody business, which was precisely God’s point. Covering for sin requires blood sacrifice. There is nothing pretty or cheap about it.
The clothing that God provides is costly. Not in the way of an Armani suit or a Versace dress, though these too require sacrifice. Costly in terms of the holy, precious blood of His Son. The robe of righteousness that Isaiah sings over was purchased at Calvary by the One who wore rags at His birth and hung naked on a cross while soldiers threw dice for his robe. Christ endured the shame of our sin in order to cover us with His righteousness. You’ve heard the phrase, “I’ve got you covered,” meaning “you’re protected.” That’s what God is saying. “I’ve got you covered.” Don’t be ashamed. Don’t hide. Hold your head up high. Your covered with Christ. You are well dressed in the sight of the Lord. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ” (Gal 3:27).
That’s better than Armani and Versace. You wear Christ. Not stylish by this world’s standards of fashion, but perfect by God’s standards of the Law. His garment of salvation, His seamless robe of righteousness. Purchased with His precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death. And that sure beats anything that we could stitch together for ourselves.
Do it yourself clothing may be economical, practical. Even somewhat satisfying. But the do-it-yourself approach won’t work to clothe us before God. Oh, we may try to cover ourselves with our own self-chosen works, our piety, our holiness, our charity, our religion, our commandment-keeping. We may be able to stitch together a few acts of kindness, sew on some heartfelt devotion, even tack on some pious prayer and praise. But as a covering for our sin before God anything we do amounts to nothing more than rags, fig leaves, compared with the clothing God provides.
God clothes us. It’s His gift. That’s the thread woven through the three readings this morning. John speaks of those who receive Christ, that is, who believe on His name as God’s children born “not of natural descent, nor of human decision, nor of a husband’s will, but born of God.” We have as much to do in our new, heavenly birth of water and the Holy Spirit as we did in our first birth. We are born as children of God, not by our choice or decision, but by the will of God. Conceived by the Spirit and born in Baptism. He made us His children in His Son Jesus Christ. St. Paul says that we were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight.” God was stitching together our salvation long before we were around for the fitting. Isaiah says, it’s just like the soil that makes the seed sprout, and the garden that causes the seed to grow. God makes righteousness and praise spring up.
Some of you received new clothing for Christmas. There’s nothing better than clothing that brings out your best and hides your worst. You want to go out and be seen. You want to show it off a bit. “Look what I got.” In a sense, we celebrated the gift of a new set of clothing at Christmas. Not a new shirt or dress, but Jesus Christ, who came to be clothed with our sin so that we might be clothed with His righteousness. That little baby-God in the manger is our holiness before God. In the rite of Holy Baptism, we put a white cloth on the new baptized and say, “Receive this white garment to show that Christ has taken away and borne your sin and put upon you his perfect righteousness. So shall you in faith ever stand before him.” He covers your worst with His best. You look good wearing Christ. You can approach your Father in heaven with boldness and confidence wearing that kind of Christmas clothing.
And you will want to boast about the One who gave it to you. “Look what He gave me.” Isaiah says, “For Zion’s sake, I won’t keep silent; for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.” What good is new clothing if no one sees it? It’s meant to be seen, with you in it. God sent His Son to save us! Who can keep quiet? God has covered us with His perfect holiness! Who can keep silent? The baby in the manger has conquered our sin and death! God’s Son died and rose for us! Who can help but praise Him?
God has given you His best. His Son. He’s your Sunday best. Too often people think, “I have to clean up my act before I come to the church.” If you wait for that, you’ll never come. The church is where God cleans up your act for you. He washes and dresses you for the occasion. That’s why the baptismal font is in back by the door. I know it’s horribly inconvenient back there, and it doesn’t make for a good show, but it stands there as a reminder that you come into God’s presence through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Through Baptism. That’s where our Lord washes you and clothes you with your Sunday best so that you appear before Him spotless, glorious, radiant, like a bride and groom on their wedding day.
But you say, “I don’t deserve it. My life’s a mess.” Christ died for your mess. So confess your sin, acknowledge that you, like the whole lot of us, are a poor, miserable sinner, and receive Christ’s forgiveness. And don’t think for a moment that your sin is so great that Christ can’t cover it in an instant. That’s the pride of unbelief. Some will say, “It’s bad for my self-esteem to call myself a sinner.” You bet it is! It’s death to your self-esteem. The only way that you can esteem yourself is to die to your self and have Christ give you a new self that you can esteem.
Before we can be clothed with Christ we need to be unclothed of our pretensions, our self-righteousness, our pride and arrogance. That’s the part we don’t like. That’s what we don’t want. That’s why we become irritated with the Word and with those who preach it. That’s why we flock after the philosophies of the world that preach self-esteem, self-esteem where there is no self to esteem. We’d just as soon stand in front of the mirror of the Law in our silly, scratchy fig leaves, and say, “Looks pretty good to me, don’t you think?”
And God, the master tailor, the clothier of the naked, says, “You look foolish in fig leaves. They’re not you. Let me give you something better.” And He gives us Christ’s perfect obedience, His suffering and death, His resurrection and glory.” He slips on Christ’s seamless robe of righteousness. And it fits oh so perfectly, like no other piece of clothing. And God says, “See, what did I tell you . You look like a million bucks. You look like my Son, whom I love.”
Who can keep quiet about such gifts? The prophet says, “I’m going to preach and sing about this until Zion shines like the morning sun, until Jerusalem blazes like a torch.” And we’re going to preach and sing it until the Church is aglow in the brightness of the One who is light and life. Nations and kings will look at your beautiful clothing, and say, “Where did you get that?” And you can tell them, and show them, and bring them to church. Come and see. Come and be baptized, forgiven, cleansed and clothed.
More than new clothing, you get a new name from God’s own mouth. New clothing and new name mean a new identity. That’s good news on this third day of the new year when hopes are still running high that this year will be better than last. Wouldn’t that be great to just start over with a clean slate, a fresh start? A new identity, a new name? You have it in Jesus Christ. “Behold I am making all things new,” Jesus says. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is past, the new has come.” No matter how stained and soiled yesterday was, you are fresh and clean in Christ. You wear His clothing. You bear His name.
God is pleased and proud to call you His beloved child. You are a crown of splendor in His hand, a royal diadem. You are a sign to the world of God’s kingship, His gracious reign. He holds you up as an example to the world of how He blesses even through suffering, hardship, difficulty, and loss. “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.” And how true that is! Our Christmas stocking is overflowing with gift after gift. Forgiveness of our sins. Eternal life with God. Salvation from death. Baptism. The word of forgiveness. The body and blood of God’s Son. Holy church. Holy ministry. A robe of righteousness. A new name. An identity as God’s beloved child.
Delight greatly in the Lord, your God, for He delights greatly in you.
In the Name of Jesus,