“Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. . . Be not so terribly angry, O LORD, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.” (Isaiah 64:5a-6, 9)
As the Church enters the season of Advent, the world around us is already celebrating Christmas. It is a whole season filled with partying, buying and selling. Christmas in the world has nothing to do with Jesus but all to do with the pursuit of pleasure. The world is in such a chaotic state it seems that people don’t want to think about the problems and the suffering. The people of the world just want to numb the pain they feel.
This is sad really, because the Lord Jesus Christ is able to help all these depressed and ignorant people. He is able to provide the solutions to all the world’s ills. The church at this time prays the prayer Isaiah spoke interceding on behalf of the people of God. They were in trouble, surrounded by fierce enemies who threatened to destroy the nation of Judah. They called on the Lord to intervene. They acknowledged that the work of salvation is all the Lord’s doing. His work includes mighty deeds that no man would ever have thought of. Compared to such deeds, even our acts of righteousness are nothing but filthy rags or polluted garments.
What the English translation calls “a polluted garment” translates a Hebrew expression that denotes a menstrual cloth. This is a rather gross and disgusting image that really belittles the deeds of man as it is nothing but waste and, under the Mosaic Law, unclean. Thus the image indicates that all of the acts and deeds which man considers so praiseworthy, noble, lofty, fine and altruistic are really unfruitful and unholy. They in no way make us better people or make us right with God. In fact, they make us unclean, unable to stand in the presence of Almighty God for they are our works not His. All that we sinners can do is to throw ourselves on God’s mercy to intervene on our behalf.
And we can do so only by faith in Jesus. Those who lack such faith are stuck in their vain and ignorant ways. The faith they need, the faith we in the Church have is revealed once again in Advent and Christmas. At this time we recall that God has acted to grant us faith, forgiveness and righteousness in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. We are but clay in the hands of the master potter. He, not we, determines the way we should go and the course of our lives. Only as we submit to His will do we find salvation as well as the grace and strength that will help us in the time of trial. Only then, in and through Him, will our works bring Him glory.