Welcome back after the holidays! It’s a new year, we celebrated in some way, maybe gathering with loved ones, enjoying favorite traditions, maybe feasting. Anyone do some feasting? No shame in feasting, folks! We gotta savor life! We don’t eat rich food every day, all year long. There’s a time for fasting and a time for feasting.
If you waltzed into 2023, in the year of our Lord, wearing a few extra pounds, then you did your sacred duty to celebrate Christmas and the presence of Jesus Christ in this world and the start of a new year—you have done what is proper to fulfill all righteousness.
But then there’s also reality. And the whole situation of finding clothes which will fit you, particularly pants.
Years ago, I went to a Christmas party with a bunch of preschool teachers—mostly women, and people who know how to be silly and have fun, people who love each other, and you know it takes a deep well of wisdom to teach preschoolers. Someone brought party napkins printed with these words: “Your jeans are telling you: put down that cookie. But your leggings are saying: girl, I got you.”
In case you’re not sure what this means: leggings are stretchy pants. If you gain a little weight, they’ll still fit. They’re the kind of pants you’d describe as forgiving.
What is your most forgiving article of clothing? And what in the world do we mean when we say “These pants are very forgiving”? What are the qualities of forgiving pants?
They fit. They stretch—they make room for you. And they’ll still look good and make you look good too—no shame in looking good! Forgiving pants support you in the places you want to be supported, and let’s be honest, we’re talking about pants, so they cover over some of your most vulnerable parts. Forgiving pants support you in the ways you need to be supported. Which makes you feel stronger. More confident. More authentically yourself, free to be you as God created you to be.
So, you see, forgiving pants—in a way—can set you free. Free from shame, free from self-consciousness, self-doubt. It feels so great, when your forgiving pants are saying, “I got you!” And you look in the mirror, like “YEAH, YA DO!” And nothing will be impossible for you! You are your forgiving pants.
Friends, we all need a faithful pair of forgiving pants. This is my dream for this year: forgiving pants for everyone! Forgiving pants are always there for us, always working wonders, always welcoming us as we are, making space for us however we show up in the day—as gracious, as powerful, as reliable as the love of Almighty God.
When did you begin to suspect I might not be talking only about pants?
Now, I could have waxed poetic about a baptismal garment—all the same things are true, and that would have made more obvious sense in light of the Gospel lesson, about the baptism of Jesus. But the trouble is: most of us don’t have a practice of being covered in a baptismal garment, symbolic of God choosing us in baptism and covering over our sins with God’s own righteousness.
Did you know: in the early days of Christianity, people were baptized naked—kids and adults too would walk down into a pool of water in their worship space, totally naked, for baptism into the Christian faith. And when they would emerge, they would be covered over with a white robe, a baptismal garment.
That’s what these white robes are about, called albs, that pastors and worship leaders wear, like what I’m wearing now. We’re not wearing these robes because we’re ashamed of our bodies or trying to hide our bodies. The white robes reference the old baptismal garment because we’re all equal—there’s no fancy baptism, there’s no fancy baptismal garment.
And we are covered over in God’s righteousness. God has made us brothers and sisters and siblings of one another because of God’s righteousness, God’s goodness, and God’s free gift of grace. We always want to make it about us when it’s really about God, creator of everything that is, originator of righteousness, author of forgiving pants.
You cannot out-righteous your Creator. You cannot be more righteous than God. Even Jesus, the one without sin, showed up to be baptized to fulfill all righteousness. God didn’t have to do that. God is righteousness and chose our messy human selves anyway.
Messy humans! With our need to earn our righteousness, to be right. Has this ever gotten you into trouble before? Arguing about who is right, pre-judging your right-ness, assuming your right-ness before even talking with someone—and you know what assuming does. Our messy human conflicts and fights and insurrections and wars—we want to be right! We want our own righteousness, thank you very much!
We don’t want anything from God; we would rather prove ourselves right. We’ll ruin our closest relationships because we want to be right. A wise therapist will ask you: do you wanna be right, or do you wanna be in relationship? Many of us respond: I WANNA BE RIIIIIIIGHT!
And where does that get us? Does ideological purity build up communities, restore good health? I don’t see it, and apparently neither does God because God sees our messy human selves and asks God’s self, would I rather have righteousness or relationship with these fools? And somehow, God chooses relationship.
Because here comes Jesus, son of the Most High God, to meet John the Baptist in the Jordan River. He comes down into our messy bathwater and says, YES, baptize me, too, right here. And John the Baptist loses all his fiery rhetoric and fairly melts into a puddle, oh, my stars, I couldn’t possibly *clutches pearls* but then Jesus brings it all together, stepping into the Jordan River with all the confidence of a gracious benefactor picking up the check after a lavish meal, like, “NO, let ME get it—I insist! It would be my honor.”
And Jesus steps into the water, full of all the stuff we would rather hide, and Jesus says, YES, I CHOOSE THIS, and he swishes away our bad decisions like a piece of trash riding a ripple of water away from him. Jesus says, I CHOOSE RELATIONSHIP, and he kinda laughs about the wad of hair that floated right up and stuck to his leg. Jesus says, THIS IS PROPER, right as some rowdy kids nearby fall into the water and splash him right in the face, and now he’s laughing so hard he can barely speak. Everyone watching is absolutely horrified, and Jesus is cracking up, saying, THIS! THIS IS PROPER TO FULFILL ALL RIGHTEOUSNESS! He is wiping his eyes—are they splashes of water or tears of laughter?—and then he splashes everyone there with such a giant splash that he got water on everybody there, and everybody here, and you and me too. As soon as the droplets hit our faces, we caught what Jesus was talking about.
We realized we are tired of our self-righteousness. Y’all, it’s so exhausting. Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, an astute Lutheran theologian, says that self-righteousness feels good at first in the same way that peeing in your pants feels warm at first. Right? After a few seconds, it doesn’t feel good, and then you’ve got a mess, and it’s on you, and you’re wearing it.
And one thing about really comfy, forgiving pants: you really don’t wanna pee in them. At least, not on purpose. But let’s say it happens, because you know, mess happens sometimes.
Sometimes this happens when you want to tell someone else to change into forgiving pants—“Just change your pants! You’ll be so happy, you’ll be so much more comfortable!” I can think of a lot of places I’d like to just hand out forgiving pants, some halls of power, some places where I wish people could know what it feels like to be embraced and loved and accepted as they are without having to make other people miserable.
But wanting to change other people is a temptation to self-righteousness! Don’t fall for it! It’s like peeing your pants.
So let’s say that happens, that your forgiving pants get messy. When that happens, and someday it will, there’s still Jesus. And you can still see him, laughing in the River Jordan, standing in that waist-deep water, calling out to you: COME ON IN, THE WATER’S FINE! And you hear a voice, as if from heaven, YES! YES! THIS ONE’S MINE! I’M SO PLEASED, HERE’S MY SON. On the riverbank, someone is calling out, forgiving pants for everyone!
“Righteousness!” Jesus cries, and splashes you right in the face. I. GOT. YOU.
 Assuming makes an “ass out of u and me.”