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"Collects of Advent: Putting on Jesus in Ugly Sweater Season" - First Sunday in Advent - December 3, 2023

We’re entering a new season…are you excited? I sure am. I’ve been waiting. 

Y'all know what season I’m talking about? (Ask: What season?) 

NO…! It’s ugly sweater season. Advent?? 

Yes…it is Advent. And I’m glad we get to be together welcoming Advent this morning. 

BUT…it is…also…ugly sweater season. 

That’s a thing now…you know. Wearing ugly Christmas sweaters. Finding like really gaudy, overly-done, colorful Christmas sweaters. When I was a kid the only people who wore those sweaters were PTA moms. Yall remember? Some of you were those moms…and you did not wear those sweaters ironically as so many do now. That’s just what you wore. But it is a thing now. 

I have my eye on a sweater…but not because I find it ugly – others might I’m sure…I just really love it…because I’m passionate about the establishment it showcases on the front. 

The Waffle House. It is a Waffle House Christmas sweater…

Any Waffle House fans with us this morning? 

If you didn’t raise your hand…just know…you’re not better than us. You might need fancy eggs.

I don’t need my eggs cooked up all fancy…sometimes I don’t even need my eggs to be real eggs. 

As long as they look yellow…that’s what that Cholula hot sauce is for - just dump it on there.

I’m always happy when I leave the Waffle House. 

I usually feel a need to shower. But I’m always happy. 

Asking Santa for a Waffle House sweater. In this season we’re putting on all kinds of things - ugly sweaters, warmer clothes, coats, hats…

But…we can put on other things this season too, can’t we…

It can be a trying season, lots of commitments, lots of interactions, parties, gatherings, it’s a season we come into contact with family and friends…even the ones we struggle with, ones we have complicate relationships with. 

It’s also a season when we get reminded of the past…of what we no longer have OR maybe…what we never had in the first place…we remember old hurts that have not quite healed, we remember words that stung, relationships broken…AND so…we put on other things.

We pull out those old resentments from the closet. We wear bitterness like a sweater. We clothe ourselves in impatience, and anger, and unforgiveness. We put on all these things convinced they’ll make us feel warm and comfortable – and they do for a while,  but eventually they begin to itch, and they tug, and they pull and still leave us feeling cold. But…we keep putting them on. 

These next four weeks of Advent and on the Feast of the Nativity itself…we’re going to do something together. We will be unpacking, reflecting on, and praying through the Collects of Advent. Now, for those who are unfamiliar or visiting or new to Episcopal worship – a Collect is an ancient Christian prayer, used in many expressions of the Christian faith from Catholic to Lutheran, from Eastern Orthodox to our own Anglican/Episcopal tradition. It is one way in which we “Collect” ourselves, center our thoughts and intentions around a particular prayer. And the one we heard this morning, for our first Sunday of Advent – is holding up something for us to consider in this season of “putting on” – let’s listen to just the very first words again. 

 Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility…

“…give us grace to cast away the works of darkness…and put on the armor of light.” 

“…put on the armor of light…” 

This prayer was composed for the 1549 Book of Common Prayer and it uses language borrowed from all the way back to the 8th Century…but its foundation is in the letters of Paul. It seems, Paul liked to remind the people of God of how they should dress. Even the Greek verb he used in those passages was the one used for actually putting on clothes…As if Paul was saying, “Look…after you wake in the morning and splash cold water across your face – be sure…you take from your closet these items…

In Ephesians chapter 4 he says, “Put on your new nature, the one created to be like God because God’s character is reproduced in you…put on the new person created to look like God.” 

In Romans chapter 13 he says, “leave the clothes of darkness in the back of the closet where they belong, instead put on light…so God may shine in and through you…” 

And in Colossians, he’s helping them actually arrange their wardrobe, “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, patience…and above all clothe yourselves with love – because love…love makes the whole thing fit together.” 

But, it’s tough though isn’t it. I don’t know about you but there are times in my life when I tell myself…I’m going to work on this, I’m going to be more kind, I’m going to be more patient, I’m going to be more loving…And I walk out into the new day – and by 10am I’ve already lost compassion for some person in my life, or treated my wife unlovingly, or been impatient with one of my kids, or repeatedly churned some old wound in my thoughts…and all the sudden I’m back in that itchy sweater and that coat I know I should have tossed out years ago.  

You ever feel that? 

Here’s a couple things I’m learning…some things I’m working on in my own life – and I hope they may offer you some encouragement. 

First, growth is not a linear path. It’s not. Growth does not follow along a straight line. Sometimes it’s two steps forward and one step back, other times it’s a step forward and then a tumble down a spiral staircase.  

So be patient with yourselves, be kind to yourselves – don’t keep a scorecard. One of the things that God’s grace means is that it means nothing to us if we don’t tear up our score cards. Christ finds all of us lost sheep in the wilderness, not in the manicured lawns of self-improvement. So be gracious.  

Second, if it’s grace that saves us, then it’s grace that clothes us. And prayer is how that happens. I am slowly beginning to learn that prayer is not a thing I have to do to get closer to God, it’s a place I enter where I’m reminded God has been there all along. Prayer is not what we do to achieve grace, it’s where we go to encounter grace. For me it’s often a windswept landscape I walk into shivering and scared and God, like some wild-eyed gypsy, meets me on the road, invites me to take a seat at his fire, and holds up before me these garments of compassion, patience, and love…and says, “You’ve been wearing those old rags for too long, time to change clothes…” And it all it costs me is to give up the belief that there’s something I can do to earn what God wants to give away for free. 

You see…it’s all about grace…which is why the very first words of our Collect on this first Sunday of Advent are…give us grace…

Our hope here at St. Andrew’s this Advent is that you meet that grace, that God. Come to our Lessons and Carols tonight, come to the party after, be part of the Sunday formation times Margie has arranged, come to one of our Centering Prayer groups that meets during the week, come to the fireside Advent series Mtr. Miriam is teaching on Wednesday nights, join Deacon Dede as she leads us through another Blue Christmas service, help Arch Deacon Chris with the Angel Tree Project, participate in the worship life of this community, and carry these Collects with you throughout the weeks ahead…

The intention is not to add to your already busy schedule, but to provide moments of respite, calm, and celebration in the midst of that schedule…Just some ways in which we can be reminded of what clothes we’re to be wearing this season. Ways, we can together, cast away the darkness and put on the light of Christ. Amen. 



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