A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
December 3, 2017 1 Advent Year B
Lections: Isaiah 64:1-9, Mark 13:24-37
We begin our celebration of the new Church year with a verse from Isaiah, “O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (64:8). Isaiah is telling us God shapes each person, much like a potter shapes clay; clay is a symbol for what comes out of the earth. We can dig clay in the fields behind the parsonage, and this marks the distinction between God and persons: God creates the material world, and we are creatures made from the stuff of that creation, stuff like clay. The potter God, however, is not fashioned by clay. The one God, creator of everything that is, doesn’t even exist in the sense that the person, a creature, does.
Of course, we’re more than clay; in the Book of Genesis we hear that God shapes us into the image, that is likeness, of Him and Herself. With this in mind, I want us to consider three things: first, Isaiah’s use of the analogy of a potter for God’s formation of persons; second, how this relates to Jesus’s warning in Mark’s Gospel about the Second Coming; and third, the relationship of the Second Coming to the Advent.
As we move through the seasons of life, through birth, old age, sickness, and death – and all that happens on our journey – we become aware of different aspects of our experience; we respond and engage with different things at different times. How are these shifting influences to be understood as “the work of God’s hands?”
God uses genes, the environment, families, societies and cultures to mold us. God uses health services and grocers, spinning wheels and factories. God uses all this and more to individually form us into the persons we are meant to be. God even uses judges, kings, and the church. And at some point, we believe, God will stand back and says, Yes, I am pleased with the children, and God will watch with delight as we emerge from all the material of creation, resplendent in our perfect form, to feast at the table which is the centerpiece of the divine realm. When all the processes of the art and craft that make us human are fit together just so, we will be filled with love, like a beautiful bowl, or a piece of elegant glassware that is mysteriously filled with light.
Advent, “the season of light,” the celebration of a child’s birth, takes place in the deepening darkness of the present: always in the present, when light travels to us, beyond our control, from the outside. Sometimes light comes to us long after the source of light, for example the star, is gone. God came to us as a person, just like you and me, in Jerusalem, 2,000 years ago, and showed us that a person who is shaped just so looks like light. In hard times, through all the suffering experienced during a lifetime, when days and thoughts cloud over and everything seems dark, if we can remember this light, of a person who is shaped just so, then we will find the hope and strength we need to know that we always will be alright.
Spiritual truth does not lend itself to one-to-one correspondences, so let’s enumerate the types of “present” darkness:
- The darkness of the season, marked by the movement of the planet on its orbit;
- The darkness of chronological aging, experienced as old age, and sickness, when each generation, as their life here is brought to a close, makes their common complaint: the future was brighter in the past;
- The darkness of the times, for instance, the political landscape; and
- The darkness of the mind, which used to be called melancholia, and we call depression.
When we “View the Present through the Promise”[i] of the Second Coming of the person informed by light, we confront deepening darkness with trust and hope in the Christ, who has promised not to abandon us. Even more, the Christ has promised always to be with us, in Spirit, to live within us. With the gift of the Spirit, God promises that our resplendent, perfect form will be achieved.
The prayer, “Come Lord Jesus Come, And Live in Me,” catches us winking at ourselves, because we know we are asking for something to happen that has already happened: God has already taken up a Divine residence in each of us. Perhaps we would rather not accept the responsibility this residence confers on us, that is, to shine in the midst of darkness; for by putting aside our own challenges, we become a light for others, a present sign of Second Coming. Though the effort can literally kill a person, we are obliged to make the effort; we cannot abandon hope. In the words of the hymnist Thomas Troeger, we are called to “Lift the world above its grieving through your watching and believing in the hope past hope’s conceiving: Christ will come again.” We are directed to walk the walk of the witness, and “Let your loving and your giving and your justice and forgiving be a sign to all the living: Christ will come again.”
The second coming, like the first, is essentially a rescue mission, premised on the observation that human beings, left to their own devises, will not survive the darkness of “the livelong night,” with its planetary, political, chronological, and mental aspects.
We might think of the Second Coming as the pattern established by remembering the Advent’s pregnancy and childbirth. It is the nature of a pattern to be repeated; in this instance, what we see repeated is light shining onto darkness. In especially dark moments, when light seems too long delayed and absent, the Second Coming becomes volition to summon hope of light. Volition is the potter God striving to shape creation. By putting hope in front of light, we are carried across darkness, in a likeness of God, by a trust formed from clay. If we were to observe ourselves, at moments like this, from a great distance, we would see a flickering of light, like a star’s. Then we would hear the assurance God offers, from beyond both darkness and light, saying, Yes, it is good; it is well – after all – with my children.
This is the message of the first Sunday of Advent. Our persons can indeed contain – and share with others – the light that leads across night skies – light drawn from a love and affection for the divine creator. And all the people said, Amen.
[i] The title of a hymn by Thomas H. Troeger, a contemporary of ours. The words are set to an eighteenth century Welsh tune, AR HYD Y NOS, which means, “the livelong night.”
“View the present through the promise, Christ will come again.
Trust despite the deepening darkness, Christ will come again.
Lift the world above its grieving through your watching and believing
in the hope past hope’s conceiving: Christ will come again.
Probe the present with the promise, Christ will come again.
Let your daily actions witness, Christ will come again.
Let your loving and your giving and your justice and forgiving
be a sign to all the living: Christ will come again.
Match the present to the promise, Christ will come again.
Make this hope your guiding premise, Christ will come again.
Pattern all your calculating and the world you are creating
to the advent you are waiting: Christ will come again.”