advent: irresponsibility and wedding dresses

One of the lectionary readings for this week is from Isaiah 61: “for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness… as a bride adorns herself with jewels…” (Is. 61:10).

A strange text for Christmastime.

I mean, you know how sometimes you look at pictures of celebrities in their red carpet gowns and see how they are draped with diamonds that they either own or have been lent to them by some fabulously wealthy jeweler or designer?  And how sure, some of these women have worked hard to get where they are, but even then the amount of work is grossly disproportionate to the level of opulence in which they live, and how it’s funny that these people honestly don’t really deserve to be draped with diamonds and enveloped in silk and chiffon  (I mean, who really does deserve that?) but how we still love and also sort of hate watching them, looking at pictures of them.  And weddings.  The weddings, especially of the super rich… Something draws us to those, against our better judgment (I couldn’t help looking at some of the photographs of Kate’s dress after the fact and didn’t my little life seem all the more drab after absorbing into my skin the palatial glories?)…

And in this little advent text we find some strange words about salvation.  About how we are dressed in the garments of yesha (the Hebrew means salvation, rescue, deliverance, and it’s basically Jesus’ name… the garments of Jesus…). How “love is a dress” to quote my friend Ashley, how love is strings of glittering diamonds.

And Isaiah is telling us is that salvation means that we (poor, naked, pitiable, wretched, blind) are clothed by Someone.  And the verbs here are passive… We are dressed by someone else, and most of us have no idea what that would even be like… To stand there, naked, while someone puts a dress on you, sit idly while others work pins through a delicate veil, one that was lent to you, that you didn’t buy… To do nothing, and have everything.

This text reminded me of the Barth that I wrote about recently, about irresponsibility...

Here is a little of it, as a reminder:

“To have our master unavoidably in Jesus Christ is to exist in an ultimate and most profound irresponsibility.”

(Surely he must mean that we exist and an ultimate and most profound responsibility, because that is how I try to live, and when I can’t live up to all the responsibility, at least I try to feel guilty enough to make up for my irresponsibility….)

But no:

All other masters and teachers and leaders and lords load and burden us with responsibilities, i.e., with questions which we answer out of our own knowledge, with obligations which we satisfy by our own wish and action, with programmes which we have to fulfill and realise by our own achievements”

(Isn’t that the beauty of advent, that God achieved something that we could never have done, brought one baby from a withered and another from a virgin womb? That even the manner in which Jesus came into the world stands as an ultimatum to us and our works, our responsibilities.)

(quotations from Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I,2 pp. 274-5)

I don’t know how this is supposed to sink in or even really what to do with it.  It seems a little awkward, thinking about irresponsibility and wedding dresses and jewels during the season of so much responsibility, and of Jesus in a barn among piles of hay. (Which even that, to us sounds sort of warm and rustic, but honestly, where would that be today?  A parking garage, an alley, a gas station…)

And the funny thing is, this verse here, about the dress and jewels, it’s in the past tense.  “He has [already] clothed me with the garments of salvation.”

We already stand here draped in strings of diamonds and pearls.  We are already wrapped in the whitest silk.

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