Revealed in Clay

Isaiah 64:1-9
David A. Davis
December 3, 2017
Advent I

You can imagine it. You may have experienced it. That moment when the two kids, just older than toddlers, not quite first graders, maybe siblings, maybe friends, they are off in the bedroom playing, keeping themselves occupied. The parent, just a few steps away, has that sudden realization that things have been too quiet for too long and goes to stick a head in the door. It was the morning that the kids found out crayons can write on walls as well as paper. But the walls are a lot bigger and more fun. And the parent, with all the appropriate amount of love and playfulness in the voice, proclaims, “Oh my goodness, what a mess!”.

You can imagine it. You may have experienced it. The college student is home for the holidays. Home, meaning sleeping at home… a lot. Sleeping a lot. Finals just complete. Another semester in the books. The parent, so glad to have the young adult home, sticks a head in the door mid-day to make sure the child is still there, still sleeping. And the room, well, the room is a mess. And the parent bites the tongue, opts for the joy of having them home, closes the door, and proclaims in a whisper, with a sigh, “Whew, what a mess!”

You can imagine it. You may have experienced it. Another crazy week at work. Too many twelve-, fourteen-hour days. The long commute. The stress of the numbers. The emails that won’t stop, ever. Then that night of the holiday concert at school. The parent didn’t get away from the office as planned. The train was late. Finally arriving halfway through, the now quite discombobulated, weary one who left home at 5:45 that morning plops into the seat on the edge of the row there with the rest of the family. The look from them, from friends and strangers and from the middle-schooler up on stage, now sitting back down, says it all. The solo just finished. And sitting there, still trying to catch a breath, the craziness of an out-of-control life screams inside. And the parent holds back the tears and with regret proclaims to himself, “Wow, what a mess!”

You can imagine it. You may have experienced it. The freshly minted retiree sits down at the kitchen table with a big old cup of coffee and two newspapers. The scene is one the retiree looked forward to for years. Papers in hard copy, morning sunshine, quiet room, nowhere to go. Obituary section first. Then local news. Followed by national, international, sports, entertainment, and, lastly, opinion. The silence is broken both by the sound of sipping from a cup and the voice of the retiree, who knows full well there was no one to hear, but with a voice full of frustration: “What a mess.” The morning reader doesn’t just say it after reading the two papers; the proclamation comes after every single section, everything but the crossword.

You can imagine it. You may have read about it. A prophet rises among the people of God. The temple, the center of worship and religious life and identity, it stands in ruins. The attempt to rebuild is in shambles as well. Just like the temple, the community is nothing but ruins. Conflict and bitterness rampant. Suffering fills the land. The longing is for a life back in exile, back in captivity. God seems distant. Sinfulness abounds. And the prophet rises among the people of God and proclaims, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence… From ages past no one has heard, no ear perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you… We have all become like one unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” A prophet rises among the people of God and with urgency and passion, proclaims, “What a mess!”

What a mess! “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” The potter and the clay. You will remember another prophet and another day. The same image. The potter and the clay. Jeremiah and his trip to the potter’s house. The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah and told him to go down to the potter’s house. Jeremiah tells of watching the potter work there at the wheel. The vessel of clay was spoiled so the potter just kept working, reworking, reshaping a new vessel until it seemed good to the potter. And the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done?… Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand…”

The potter and the clay. Three hymnbooks ago in the Presbyterian Church, it was number 302. The old red hymnbook. “Have thine on way, Lord! Have thine one way! Thou art the Potter, I am the clay. Mold me and make me, after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.” Both the early 20th century hymn and the prophet Jeremiah, affirming that we are like clay in the hands of God. For the individual disciples and for the community of faith, the promise tells of the shaping and reworking of the very hand of God in our lives. “Have thing own way, Lord! Like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand,” says the Lord.

That’s Jeremiah. But we’re reading Isaiah this first Sunday of Advent. And Isaiah steps into the image of the potter and clay from a different perspective. The downbeat of Isaiah’s use of the metaphor is not the promise, it’s the mess. What a mess! Of course the prophet’s exhortation is directed to the people of Israel. But a careful read of the text shows the proclamation is intended for the very ears God has as well. What a mess, O people! What a mess, O God! And yet, and still, and even now, the prophet keeps preaching, “Even now you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter. We are all the work of your hand.” The people of God aren’t the ones Isaiah is reminding here. It is God. Look at this mess, the mess of our lives, the mess of our world, the mess of my heart and my faith. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. Yet, you are our God.

We are just the clay. You are the potter. We’re just all the work of your hand. Don’t give up on us now. Don’t hide from us now. Don’t be angry now. You are the God of our salvation. Our help comes from you and you alone. In you is our hope. In you we find forgiveness. In you there is new life. You better have Thy own way, because mine, because ours, it’s not working all that well, O Lord. To quote the Advent prayer: come, Lord, Jesus, quickly come. You’d better come quickly, Jesus. As Robert Duvall in the movie The Apostle put it, “I’ve always called you Jesus. You’ve always called me Sonny. Tell me what to do Jesus.” We’re only the clay. You’re the potter!

“Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death, until he comes.” Here at the table, every time. We say it. You hear it. And we all wonder why only his death is mentioned. “You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” Some celebrants toss a little resurrection in there, or refer to it as his saving death to help us all feel better about it. But the quote, the quote is from Paul in I Corinthians 11:26. “You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” The Lord’s Supper. The Last Supper. The night of his betrayal. The night of his arrest. The night before he was hung up to die. Our Savior, the Child of Bethlehem, the Son of God, the Great Shepherd of the Sheep, the Teacher, the Healer, the one who ate with sinners, and challenged the rich, and touched the unclean, and wanted to be servant of all, the one born in a manger in the still of night, it was the night before he was nailed to a cross to die abandoned by absolutely everyone. Yeah, what a mess.

Yes, you remember his death until he comes. Because in his death, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in his death you really find out that the Potter, the Potter became the clay. Christ took on our flesh. Christ took on this mess. Christ took all this on because of God’s love. Because we are all the work of God’s hand. And God saved us through Christ. And Jesus, Jesus was clay. He became clay. Christ and us. God with us. You are the potter. Our salvation, the Glory of the Lord, revealed in clay.

Advent is so much more than a time of year. Advent is when you come to the point in your life, in your heart, in your faith, in the world when you crave to be assured yet again that your salvation, that our salvation rests in God and God alone. Advent is when you feel like things are a mess yet you know that despite the all the mess, in the midst of all the mess, right smack in the middle of all this mess, Christ shall come.

Come, Lord Jesus! Quickly come! No, really, Jesus. Really quickly come!

© 2017 Nassau Presbyterian Church
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