By Jim Brenneman, president of Goshen College
Reprinted from Advent Devotions, Goshen College
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 64:1-9 (NRSV)
A potter friend and Goshen College alum, Dick Lehman, describes one of his pottery techniques as that of “capricious control.” He wraps a large leaf or other vegetation around an unfired clay pot, then covers it with sawdust, places it in a protective container called a saggar and puts it in the kiln. As a result of the heat and pressure in the kiln, a film of carbon penetrates the pot’s surface, creating a ‘fast-fossil’ leaf pattern on the pottery.
Depending on the potter’s choice of temperature, glaze, even differing placements in the kiln, a beautiful piece of pottery emerges that clearly contains the potter’s art and skill and design. However, the overall splendor of the piece can be quite surprising – something hidden or furtive or mysterious made visible for the very first time, majestically revealed even to the artist.
Isaiah, the poet of today’s Advent lesson (Isaiah 64:1-9), like all of us at times, longs for God’s mysterious presence to be revealed for all to see: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” He wants God to be seen and experienced blatantly like a “fire that kindles brushwood,” a fire that “boils the water,” or, perhaps, like the fire inside a kiln, violently hot and devastatingly destructive, especially toward one’s adversaries. He also acknowledges times when God’s hiddenness was surprisingly revealed in “awesome deeds we did not expect.” Whether by design or by surprise, he longs for God to be known by all.
He concludes with the awareness that God may, indeed, be hidden due to a combination of divine design and willful human disobedience and likely many other factors as well. God, like a potter, has “capricious control” in designing and crafting the piece of pottery, choosing the shape, color, saggar and temperature. The final splendored pot, however, is a mystery revealed only in the final piece itself.
The amazing, wonderful truth of this Advent season is that God did, indeed, “tear open the heavens and come down,” not as a violent, fiery, vengeful warrior or judge. Instead, God came to earth swaddled in a manger, in clay-like human form, whose divine and merciful presence is now most wonderfully revealed as a holy “treasure in clay-vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7), the Spirit of Christ in you and me. The miracle of Advent is most simply named, Emanuel, God-with-us, Christ-in-us. I, for one, can’t wait to see the artfully designed, yet unpredictable beauty of God’s mystery revealed in each one of us. To the Divine Potter and to us, that may be the best Christmas surprise of all.
SCRIPTURE: Isaiah 64:1-9 (NRSV)
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence--
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil--
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!
When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect,
you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.
From ages past no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who works for those who wait for him.
You meet those who gladly do right,
those who remember you in your ways.
But you were angry, and we sinned;
because you hid yourself we transgressed.
We have all become like one who is 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.
There is no one who calls on your name,
or attempts to take hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us,
and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord,
and do not remember iniquity for ever.
Now consider, we are all your people.