The Feast of St. Luke, October 18, often catches me by surprise. In some ways it marks the prelude to the great festival of Christmas. After St. Luke’s Day, it seems but a short journey to All Hallows Eve (Halloween) and All Saints on November 1. Once I am in November, I think of Thanksgiving which slips into the advent of Christmas, the feast of Incarnation.
St. Luke was both evangelist and physician, and it is believed that he painted portraits of the Virgin Mary, one to be found in the basilica of Maria Maggiore in Rome. But he will always be, to me, primarily the writer of the nativity story in the second chapter of his Gospel. We act out these words each year, or we hear them read to us, taking us from the Annunciation to Bethlehem and the stable, angels, shepherds, and kings. Children memorize these passages; they dress in colorful robes; they wear sparkle wings and golden crowns. They tell the story by wearing it.
So when three-nearly-four-year-old Natalie bounced into the Sunday School this morning in her princess tiers of purple satin, her Halloween costume, I grinned. The color and the bounce was a bit of Christmas teasing me. The dress was a bit too big for her, and she reached for the back neckline to pull it up again and again, and then reached for the flounces to keep from tripping. When we gathered around the circle and sang I Sing a Song of the Saints of God, she joined in happily. She twirled and clapped. She growled like a fierce wild beast. The angels hovering in the doorway smiled.
Our lesson this morning was about Joseph and his coat of many colors. The preschool version emphasizes God’s presence with Joseph as he receives his beautiful coat, loses his coat, loses his family, and regains his family, how God makes everything right as the children of Jacob (Israel) settle in Egypt. We colored and cut out a paper figure of Joseph. We colored and cut out Joseph’s coat. Joseph wore the coat when the tabs were folded neatly over his shoulders. The coats were colorful. They were beautiful. They covered Joseph’s brown sacking with a rainbow.
I thought how the story, while immensely important as a pivotal event in Old Testament history, the settling of the Israelites in Egypt, was a wonderful metaphor for life with God. God wraps us in just such a colorful coat, cloaking us in seasons and sacraments, bright flowers and flaming candles and aromatic incense and melodic chant. Sometimes we take off our coat, for we are ashamed of its brilliance. Sometimes others (like Joseph’s brothers) are envious of the coat. Sometimes we fear we will stand out from the crowd. We want to blend in. We simply want to be loved.
And yet the coat of many colors is our rightful inheritance, our blessing, our promise of joy. It is given to us through the Church, through the Bride of Christ, and as I followed Natalie down the south aisle after her blessing and my communion, we marveled at the colored light pouring through the stained glass windows alongside. Natalie stared, stunned by beauty, pulled by glory, her large eyes blinking, drinking it in.
St. Paul speaks of putting on Christ, donning him like a garment, and so as we round the bend of mid-October and look to All Saints, as we consider December’s promise of Christmas and that burst of eternity in time, we know we are true temples of God, houses of incarnation. We don the coat of many colors, the wedding garment in the parable of the marriage feast. We don Christ himself in the Mass.
Costumes are curious things. We try being someone else. And yet the garment of Christ, his Church, fits perfectly, making us more into the person we are meant to be. No longer are we left outside in the dark with brown sacking. No longer are we alone, unloved. We are clothed by God, full of his beauty, full of his love, safe from all disquietude.
I had the honor this week to be interviewed online by the novelist Bruce Judisch (http://www.brucejudisch.blogspot.com/ ) and talk a bit about my recent novel, The Magdalene Mystery, which is, in many respects, about searching for that coat of many colors, the cloak of resurrection. It is about a quest for truth, a quest to learn what happened two thousand years ago that first Easter morning in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb. A dead man came to life, donning new flesh. Just so, we know we shall be given new bodies one day, and we trust in that vision because of this historic moment. And our new coats will be glorious and as colorful as Joseph’s, one given to him by his father as well.
But here and now in earthly time, in the mean-time, we have our wedding garments; we are clothed anew to become who we are meant to be. We enter the pageant of Incarnation described so vividly and poetically by St. Luke. We say, as Mary said to Angel Gabriel, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” We hear the angels sing and we follow the star to Bethlehem. We sing and we dance the liturgy of the Bride of Christ each Sunday in our parish churches. We marvel at the beauty of God as we reach to touch the risen Christ, just as Mary Magdalene did so long ago.