Advent 1 – Dirty Laundry

Scripture:  Romans 3:23

As we enter the month of December, we begin making preparations for the upcoming Christmas holiday.  Typically these preparations involve putting up Christmas lights, sending out Christmas cards, and checking items off of Christmas shopping lists.  We also make spiritual preparations for Christmas by meditating on the upcoming celebration of Christ’s coming into the world.

With it being the Christmas season, we are surrounded by the many signs of the season, including stockings.  While there are multiple stories as to how this particular holiday symbol came to be, they usually have the stockings being hung by the fireplace to dry.  They were dirty laundry that had been made reasonably clean and hung to dry.  We all have dirty laundry that needs to be taken care of, so says Romans 3:23

“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”

The word that gets translated as “sin” carries the meaning of “missing the mark” or “to err”.  In our attempts to be in a right relationship with God, we often wander off track to the left, to the right, up, down, and any other direction than straight.  Sin describes any way in which we turn away from God.  The all-encompassing nature of sin means that it will thwart us at every turn as we try to reconcile ourselves to God.  Our sin will always keep us from getting our stockings completely clean, as it were.  Doing so is, very simply, beyond our reach.  This is the condition that we find ourselves in without God’s intervention.

Of course, we may try to reach God’s level of righteousness by doing good things or things that we think God would approve of.  However, even a life that is righteous by all the standards of the world has not taken care of the sin problem and, as the prophet Isaiah laments, “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags”.  Sin really is like a filthy spot on us, everything that comes in contact with it is also made dirty.  Until our sin is dealt with, everything we do is tainted by it.  It is a harsh truth, but this also includes our “good” deeds.

There is another problem with trying to become righteous by our own efforts.  The belief that we are able to work our way into heaven carries with it the assumption that either we are not accountable for the wrong that we do while we are still in the process of becoming righteous, or we are able to atone for all of them so that it is like they never happened (that we can erase what we did in the past with what we do today).  The first option is inconsistent with Scripture which states:  “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil things.  But I say to you that for every idle word men speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.  For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:35-38 emphasis added).  We are accountable for everything we do, past and present.  The second option is inconsistent with history and experience.  The very best that we can do is forgive and be forgiven, but we cannot undo that which is done even if we make it up to the person.  Balancing our moral scale this way doesn’t remove the contents of the pans.  Using our stocking analogy, it is like drawing a spot on our other stocking to match the stain that we can’t get out of the other.

Try as we might, there is no way around the sin problem and the way it contaminates our lives.  What we need is nothing short of a miracle.

Practical Questions:

  1. How does the fact that we don’t have the power to rid ourselves of sin make you feel?
  2. In what ways do we try to make ourselves righteous?
  3. Why is the idea of overcoming sin by our own power so attractive?
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