When I was in seminary, I found the perfect robe.
The "Year-Rounder Anglican Cassock" belonged to a staff member at the church where I was an intern, and she graciously loaned it to me many Sundays. As graduation approached, and my family asked what I wanted as a gift, I didn't hesitate to send them a description of the cassock.
My mom called with the surprising news: these were not one-size-fits-all robes. Before we could place the order, the company needed every measurement imaginable. We had to measure the distance from my ankle to the floor, the lengths of my arms, the width of my shoulders across the back. After we calculated all the numbers, we had to enter them on the website in appropriate, tiny boxes.
The came the waiting.
Place the order. Assemble the robe. Pack robe carefully. Mail the robe. Robe travels very slowly across the country.
I knew that there were a couple of chapters in the book of Exodus devoted to priestly garments, but I didn't think their assembly would be so tedious! When the cassock finally arrived, I remember the great sense of fulfillment when I tried it on. All the years of theological training and the weeks of waiting came together. The heavy fabric reminded me of the weight of this calling. Excited and fearful, I looked forward to many years with this priestly vestment.
Nearly ten years and 400 wears have passed since the cassock arrived. I was very careful in the early years out of seminary with the cleaning, hanging, and storing of the robe.
Then, the robe became a familiar part of my vocation. That initial sense of the Holy that I'd experienced faded to the recesses of my memory. I would toss the robe on a chair after worship in order to get to a lunch appointment. I hung it on cheap, plastic hangers. One button fell off. Then another button fell off. A snap broke. I saved them and said, "One day I'll get these fixed. But there's no hurry."
Cassocks have a lot of buttons. With time I forgot about the missing ones.
Two months ago, climbing the chancel stairs after the children's sermon, I stepped on the robe's edge and heard a rip. The main, interior button fell to the floor, and I knew the lining had torn. But I had prayers to offer and a sermon to preach! I wrapped the robe as tightly as I could around me and proceeded with the service.
Once again, I forgot about the button. For weeks, I wore a robe literally hanging by one button. The fabric fell unevenly around me. The lone survivor of a button strained under the burden. I had to face reality: the cassock needed repairs that I could not offer.
Fortunately, we have a knitting group at the church. I took the robe to them and asked if any of them could repair the torn lining and replace the main, interior button. None of them wanted the challenge, but they sent me to another church member whom they trusted with such needs.
I called the lady and took the robe to her. She explained how she would repair the tear, and I left the cassock in her capable hands.
When she returned the cassock to me later that day, she was confused. She pointed to places where other buttons should be.
I confessed: "Yes, ma'am. All of these buttons have fallen off over the years. But I only really need this one that you repaired."
She offered to replace the other buttons. I didn't want to be a bother, so I told her that was okay. I would make do with two buttons.
She persisted. I finally agreed.
When she returned the robe to me, all of the buttons were back. I had forgotten where the snap went, but she had found the perfect location. As I slipped my arms through the sleeves and secured the cloth across my shoulders, the day of the robe's arrival returned to me. That sense of the Holy. That sense of heaviness balanced by a friend's kindness.
The story of Jesus' birth is so familiar to many of us that we often forget the wonder and awe. As my robe became such a familiar part of my work that I tossed it to the side, we easily overlook the weighty power in the baby of Bethlehem. The more we ignore "God With Us," the more precariously we hang by a button. We need our brothers and sisters to remind us of the power we carry as the priesthood of believers. We need to acknowledge the mysterious presence of Emmanuel.
As I prepare to wear the fully-repaired cassock on Christmas Eve, I look forward to catching the eye of a certain church member. I will give thanks for the time and care she devoted my priestly garment. As I lift my hands at The Great Thanksgiving, I will rejoice with all of God's people for the ways we hold one another together on the holiest of nights.
all good things, and a very Merry Christmas, to each of you,