“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, O Jerusalem, and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.”
If I were preaching on the Second Sunday of Advent this year, I think I would select the first of the two options for the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, which is actually from the Jewish apocrypha.
Years ago (many years ago) when I was 18 years old, I worked in a small 100-bed community hospital in Southern California. Initially, I was a janitor (“housekeeper” in the hospital jargon of the time) but within a few months I was able to take the job of orderly.
I had many duties as an orderly, the principal one being patient transport. I spent a good deal of my day pushing patients in wheelchairs from Admissions to their rooms, on gurneys from the Emergency Room to a hospital room or the operating theater, on gurneys or in wheelchairs from their rooms to various hospital departments for surgeries, diagnostic procedures, therapies, etc., or in wheelchairs from their rooms to the patient pick-up area upon their discharge.
For most of those trips, the patients were garbed in hospital gowns which, I think, were (and still are) universally hated by all who had to wear them. Patients do not like wearing those things; they are embarrassing. Hard to get into and out of, with ties in odd and difficult to reach places, leaving parts of one’s anatomy exposed. They are “garments of sorrow and affliction.”
My morning runs always included transporting patients to surgery. Their faces betrayed fear, pain, sometimes hope. My afternoons always included transporting patients to the radiology department for cobalt radiation, an early form of nuclear therapy for cancer. Their faces were filled with desperation. I always tried to be sunny and cheerful; I hoped it was helpful to patients for whom life and health was anything but sunny.
The best transport runs were those with patients who were being discharged. They’d been through the misery of medical or surgical treatment and now they were going home, maybe not fully restored to health, but better. They had taken off those hospital gowns of sorrow and affliction, and put back on their normal, everyday, street clothes. And they were (most of them) gloriously joyful!
Baruch speaks of exchanging the garments of sadness for “the beauty of the glory from God,” and it occurs to me that rather than something extraordinary, that divine raiment is supposed to be our normative garb. In Isaiah, God speaks of the redemption of Israel and says of “everyone who is called by my name” that “I created [them] for my glory.” Like those patients being discharged, we have been healed, cured of what ails us; “in the tender compassion of our God,” we have been saved from sin, and we are called to put on what is supposed to be our normal, everyday, street clothes, “the beauty of the glory from God.”
We weren’t made for sadness and pain, for sin and sickness; these hospital gowns of sorrow and affliction were never meant to be ours. We were made for joy and gladness, for beauty and for glory; the robes of heaven were intended to be our everyday garb!
It is one of the more remarkable things about Advent that we are preparing for one of the least remarkable events, the birth of a baby. There is nothing more ordinary than that, nor more precious and extraordinary. It happens every day, and every time it happens it is unique and miraculous. In Advent we prepare for, and Advent prepares us for, that glorious, miraculous, utterly unique beauty which God intended to be our everyday, ordinary, and normative state.
The Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston recently retired from full-time parish ministry. This meditation is offered on the lessons of the Revised Common Lectionary for the Second Sunday in Advent, Lectionary Year C. The lessons are Baruch 5:1-9 (or Malachi 3:1-4); Canticle 16 (Luke 1:68-79); Philippians 1:3-11; and
Luke 3:1-6. They can be found at The Lectionary Page.
Click on footnote numbers to link back to associated text.
 Baruch 5:1
 Isaiah 43:7
 Luke 1:78