Did you ever notice the unique vesture that accompanies all the significant moments in our Christian vocation? A baby brought for baptism is clothed in a gleaming white garment, exhorted to keep unstained the newfound dignity he has received. A bride turns heads as she walks down the aisle, radiant on the day of her wedding, an image of Christ’s bride, the Church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing. When religious men or women enter the novitiate, they take up the religious habit that marks their daily carrying of the Cross in community life and their particular call to serve the Church. A white veil is exchanged for a black one at the profession of vows as a cloistered nun dies to herself and is espoused to Christ forever. One of the most striking moments of an Ordination Mass is when the new priest is clothed in the priestly vestments that highlight the surpassing dignity of his vocation to preside at the sacred liturgy in persona Christi. And one of the most solemn moments of any funeral mass is when the deceased is dressed with the funeral pall, wrapped in the infinite love and mercy of Christ who is our only hope for salvation.
Our first reading signals just such a new moment for the Holy City. Announcing the return of God’s people from exile in Babylon and the hope of a new season of faithfulness, Baruch writes, “Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery. Put on the splendor of glory from God forever.” God tenderly undresses his beloved, gently taking from her shoulders the drab gown of her past infidelities. He will not allow His chosen one to be marred by her past sins. Instead she is placed “upon the heights,” lifted up as the greatest of the cities of the earth, arrayed in the glory of God; she becomes the holy place where God has delighted to meet His people. He places upon her head “the mitre that displays the glory of the eternal name,” a priestly article that speaks of her vocation as the seat of true worship. So greatly does God desire to renew her that even the landscape is made over so as not to distract from her luster: “[let] every lofty mountain be made low, and the age-old depths and gorges be filled to level ground, that Israel may advance secure in the glory of God.”
John the Baptist also announces the need to “prepare the way of the Lord,” re-dressing the landscape in anticipation of God’s coming salvation. In a supreme act of love, the Word of God is to lay aside the garment of His majesty, emptying Himself to assume the slave’s tunic of our humanity. The flesh becomes the hinge of our salvation, in Tertullian’s immortal words. And the chosen locus of that sacred encounter is the New Temple found in the New Jerusalem, dressed in a special way by God at the prompting of an angel and the humble response of a virgin: Mary’s Immaculate womb. The Second Week of Advent is Mary’s week, encompassing both the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe. In God’s plan, Mary received the grace to lay down the tattered garment of human nature stained by original sin, only to be wrapped in the restored human condition so responsive to God’s will that it shimmers like the sun. Through her yes, “the word became flesh and dwelt among us” and thus has divine life become humanity’s most treasured garment. May we always keep it unstained until we run out to meet Christ at His glorious coming. Come Lord Jesus.
Fr. Robert Krueger is a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago. He currently serves as the associate pastor at St. Bede the Venerable parish in Chicago. He has attended TOB I, TOB II, and TOB & Priestly Identity.