This scripture passage appears in the lectionary, but it’s in Year C during the Christmas season. As you notice, once again, I have cause to point out the exclusion of verses we all can see. The lectionary routinely omits the “troublesome” verses. That’s what happens in Colossians 3.
The rest of the chapter has verses as troublesome as anything in the New Testament. “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord” (v. 18). Oh, boy! And then there’s the part that starts off, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything” (v. 22).
You know, maybe one reason the lectionary editors left that out is to avoid the awkward moment after reading it. That is, when we say, “This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!”
I won’t go into great detail about this passage. It’s been a headache for centuries. It has been rightly criticized as being a tool supportive of the patriarchal mindset. Of course, it can also be seen as a remnant of very specific cultural references—not at all applicable to us today. Still, there are those who like all of the “submission of women” stuff. And our nation’s history has been dreadfully warped by the appalling misuse of the scriptures regarding slaves.
So let’s move on. We can think of the preceding comments as a preface, or introduction, to the sermon.
It doesn’t take very much for me to get hot. On a warm summer day, or even during a meeting in a warm room, I might start sweating in no time. Sometimes it happens when I’m standing in the pulpit! I am a self-admitted wimp when it comes to hot weather. That’s why I try to avoid going south during the summer. That’s one reason why I love winter.
In any event, when it comes to clothing, in particular when it comes to T-shirts, I prefer the all-cotton heavy ones. It might seem counter-intuitive, but I consider them to be cooler than the thin ones. Unfortunately, they are difficult to find. I have had three of them for many years, and they are getting a bit ragged.
In our scripture reading, St. Paul talks about some clothing he likes. It is abundant, though sometimes it doesn’t fit very well. We usually have to grow into it. It can be itchy and scratchy. We have to be encouraged to put it on. These clothes are made of material like none other: “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (v. 12).
Paul talks about clothing just a few verses earlier. He says to get rid of “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language,” since we have “clothed [ourselves] with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator” (vv. 8, 10). That’s a pretty good fashion design, better than anything modeled on a Paris catwalk!
There’s a fine thread count which makes abundant use of forgiveness. We’re told, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (v. 14).
That bit about “perfect harmony” brought to mind the song Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney did in the 80s, “Ebony and Ivory.” You know how it goes. “Ebony and ivory live together in perfect harmony / Side by side on my piano keyboard, oh Lord, why don’t we?”
That’s not a gratuitous, unnecessary mention of music. Beginning with the end of verse 15, “And be thankful,” we follow a path that leads to singing. “With gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God” (v. 16).
There’s a saying, “One who sings, prays twice.” That’s been attributed to St. Augustine. I love singing, even if as I’ve said many times, no one wants to hear it. But God really is the audience, as the apostle says—and God is a forgiving audience!
On a related topic when it comes to music, here’s something about King David. Well known lover of music and poetry he is, the book of 1 Chronicles includes something about his reign as king.
In chapter 25, we see David setting apart some musicians “who should prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals” (v. 1). They are to speak the message of the Lord with their music. I really like that. We know that songs are able to convey the word of God, but so can music.
Staying with the apostles’ theme, we can clothe ourselves; we can envelop ourselves in the sound of music; we can dress ourselves in joy.
Paul tells the Colossians to “let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” He adds, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (vv. 15-16). We can indeed look good on the outside—with the clothing we show the world, covering up the clothing of virtues we saw earlier.
So what does it mean for the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts? It’s not just to live there, but to rule. The peace of Christ rules! What does rule our hearts? To what do we give our hearts?
The apostle says the word of Christ is to dwell in us richly. Again, not simply to dwell, to take up residence, but to really take over the place. The word of Christ is to adorn our very being. It is to shine like precious gemstones.
I’m forced to ask myself, “How richly does that word dwell in me?” Do I sometimes let it walk around in raggedy, sweaty clothing?
The word of Christ. The word of the Messiah. “Word” in Greek is λογος (logos). Usually it just means an ordinary word. Applied to God, it can also carry a sense of something elemental or eternal. The “word of Christ” is like that.
In chapter 1, the word logos appears twice. In verse 5, it is “the word of the truth” where it refers to the gospel. In verses 25 and 26, it’s “the word of God,” which is, as the scripture reads, “the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages and generations.” We’re told by Marcus Barth and Helmut Blanke that the word of Christ, the word of the Messiah “is the word which proclaims the Messiah (the revealed secret) and by which the Messiah himself is received as Lord.” St. Paul says the word of Christ is the secret revealed within us.
If we look ahead to chapter 4, he asks the Colossians to pray for he and his friends so “that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ” (v. 3). The apostle longs to “reveal it clearly” (v. 4). We also are called to reveal the mystery, to make it manifest in our lives.
With what do we clothe ourselves? Hopefully something other than those heavy T-shirts I like!
Our wardrobe is mystery, what confounds the world. (Maybe confounding ourselves!) Remember the material: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Putting on those virtues seems a sure-fire way of being branded “a loser.” They might seem a bit strange in our society, which too often is marked by selfishness and even cynicism. But like I suggested earlier, what a joy it is to don that apparel.
The world indeed needs to see us as people of joy. We need to see that in each other. Please note, joy is not the same thing as happiness. It is not an emotion. Joy can be present even in times of sorrow. That might be the surest test of it. It is a deep awareness of being held and loved. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Ga 5:22).
When we open ourselves to everything we’ve heard: clothing ourselves with these joyful qualities, especially love; bearing with and forgiving one another; letting the peace of Christ rule in our hearts; allowing the word of Christ to dwell in us richly; teaching and admonishing each other in wisdom; being grateful and singing to God—then we are fulfilling verse 17.
“Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” It is our lifestyle. It simply is who we are. It’s not something artificial. It is a sign that Jesus Christ, through the power of the Spirit, has transformed, and continues to transform us. (And by the way, all of that crazy nonsense at the end of the chapter is also transformed and seen to be a relic to be relegated to the past.)
We are to clothe ourselves with joyful mystery. We are to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!
 Marcus Barth and Helmut Blanke, trans. Astrid B. Beck, Colossians: The Anchor Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1994), 426.