From the Prophet Zechariah:
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” And to him he said, “See, I have taken your guilt away from you, and I will clothe you in festal apparel.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Zech. 3:3-4 (NRSV) – December 18, 2013.)
Clothing is a common metaphor in Holy Scripture. Clean clothing is often a portrayal of righteousness or forgiveness. Everyone is familiar with the vision of John of Patmos recorded in the Book of Revelation:
One of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, robed in white, and where have they come from?” I said to him, “Sir, you are the one that knows.” Then he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:13-14)
I’m not aware of any other use of “filthy clothes” to represent sin or guilt, although Paul comes close in his admonition to the Ephesians: “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice. . . .” (Eph 4:22) The Greek verb translated here as “put away” is the same that would be used to describe the act of removing one’s clothing, airo.
In Zechariah’s vision, angelic attendants remove Joshua’s filthy clothes, but in our lives it is up to us to do it ourselves, to “put away” such things as Paul lists.
There is one week left until the celebration of the Nativity. In that week, getting ready for Christmas, what “filthy clothes” do I need to take off?
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.