‘You are the potter’…being shaped by Advent.
Sermon for Adel Parish Church – Advent 1
Isaiah 64: 1 – 9; Mark 13: 24 – end
How are your plans for Christmas coming along?
I imagine – could I see you – there will be wry smiles, or people throwing things at the screen. Planning anything at the moment feels like aiming at a moving target.
We find that hard don’t we? We like certainty, we like to know where we’re going. Uncertainty makes us anxious…it’s hard to look to the future when we have no idea what it will be like.
Today we bring that uncertainty to the first Sunday of Advent, with its theme of hope. Perhaps we’re left wondering what it is we’re hoping for.
Of course, we know Advent is about preparing for the coming of God, the birth of the Christ child. We know it’s not about shopping, presents, stuff. But without the music which helps us enter the mystery, or the special people in whom we encounter Christ our hope to meet Christ this Christmas might feel dimmed.
Those words we heard from Isaiah, spoken for a people in exile, seem especially relevant today when we feel exiled from normal life, from a normal Advent and Christmas. Isaiah struggles to reconcile the ancient stories of God’s powerful presence, with the people’s experience of God’s absence.
‘Come down, like you used to do’, he implores God. ‘Come and sort out our problems and rescue us.’ Our prayers might well be similar…’send a vaccine…make this go away’. I’m sure these are good things to pray for…but there’s a verse at the end of the reading that I think tells us more about Advent hope.
After his demands for God to act, Isaiah says: ‘Yet Lord, we are the clay, and you are our potter.’
‘We are the clay and you are the potter’, a beautiful image that alters my picture of how we might live in hope this Advent.
The focus is moved from passive waiting for God to come and sort things out, to creative waiting, a time of being changed by God.
From what I know of Adel, there’s probably at least one expert potter listening to this, and most of us will have seen a film of a potter at their wheel…the miraculous turning of a lump of clay into a beautiful, useful pot.
It’s quite a slow process, the potter has to be patient and work with the clay, slowly shaping it into the pot they’ve planned. Sometimes it goes wrong, the pot collapses, or the wheel becomes unbalanced. But all is not lost – the potter picks up the clay and starts again.
Those are two images of hope I’ve found useful at the beginning of this strange Advent.
Firstly, we might hope and pray for a sudden drop in cases, the quick roll out of a vaccine before Christmas. But whether or not that happens, God can be at work in our lives, moulding them gently and patiently into lives where there is room for Jesus.
We’re not just waiting, passively for Christmas to arrive or not. If we submit ourselves to God the potter, he can begin to change us into people ready to accept Christ, people who might begin to turn our bit of the world into a place fit for Christ.
Secondly, like the potter with the clay, if things go wrong, if our lives go astray from God, he will always start again with us. Advent is not just a new church year; it’s a reminder that God waits for us to make a new start with him. Whether this Advent is the first time you’ve really thought about welcoming Jesus into your life…or you feel you come with the same old faults you’ve asked God to help with time and again…God the potter is ready to work with whatever clay we offer him.
That’s a real story of hope.
If, like me, you’re of a certain age, the words ‘potter’ and ‘clay’ may have brought to mind the famous ‘potter’s wheel interlude’ from the early days of BBC television. Back then, breakdowns were frequent. The BBC needed to reassure the audience their TV was still working, and hang on to them until the programme could restart.
They needed to fill the gap – with something people wouldn’t switch off – but that they wouldn’t mind leaving once the fault was fixed. They chose a potter at a wheel, making a pot.
There was something almost Advent like about that waiting. To paraphrase Mark’s gospel…we didn’t know the moment when the programme would restart. But in the meantime – we were drawn into something creative.
In these uncertain times, it’s perhaps good to be reminded in Advent that we aren’t waiting passively for a God who comes down in power and might. We’re hoping for a baby in a cradle, who comes to invite, to teach, to persuade, to love us into new people.
Advent hope is about letting God the potter gently mould our lives so we’re ready to hear the message Jesus brings.
And that means making ourselves available.
We have some offerings that might help…
…our ‘Advent windows’ on the side of church – a different personal reflection each week on our Advent themes, put together by some of our artistic members.
…our Advent course – a chance to reflect with others – please get in touch if you’d like to be involved.
Or you may prefer to find your own resources – bible readings, poems, paintings – find a quiet space to sit and let God in.
Whatever you do – I hope Advent will be a time of creative waiting.
A final word about that BBC potter’s wheel: apparently ‘Viewers who stayed alert noticed that the potter never finished the pot, but just kept remodelling it.’
Perhaps a good picture of Advent hope as the beginning of a lifetime journey. A journey of letting God gently make us more Christlike.