Lectionary Reflection for the First Sunday of Advent
November 27, 2011
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people. Isaiah 64:8-9
Once again we stand at the beginning of a new church year with the arrival of Advent. Of course, it’s kind of tough to focus on that when radio stations were playing Christmas music before Thanksgiving and certain stores (which shall remain nameless) had a merchandizing mash-up of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas accoutrements. Kind of makes little ‘ol Advent seem anti-climatic. Better yet, why bother with this strange little liturgical season anyhow?
I’ll tell why one should bother with this season. First of all, it’s absolutely and totally awesome, but that’s beside the point. Advent is a time of preparation, anticipation, longing, waiting, hoping, and several more related adjectives. Advent offers a welcome change of pace from the frenzied, hectic holiday experience that has become the standard in most of the developed world. Finally, Advent reminds us of how fragile and fleeting our lives are and where we should place our hope and trust.
The lessons appointed for Advent run counter to the movements of our consumer culture. Full of vivid imagery, jarring juxtapositions, and reminders that only God orders the universe and brings true meaning to our existence, these passages call us from our ruts and patterns of living to reexamine our lives and how we live. It is a penitential, reflective, and hopeful season, one not to be overlooked in favor of safer, shallower waters.
Worship leaders, preachers, musicians, and teachers have much with which to work during this first week. I urge you to take full advantage of what scripture places in your hands. The lesson from Isaiah is jam-packed with opportunity for exploration and illumination. I am particularly fond of verses 8-9 and the image of God as potter and individuals as clay being worked in the hands of the master. There are some fine possibilities to use the preceding verses that lament one’s sad, transient condition on this earth with the hopeful tension of being formed and held by the Creator.
The epistle lesson from 1 Corinthians provides a “spiritual pep talk” for beleaguered people. Given current world events and economic woes, this might be a good time to focus on how we are equipped by God to be people of faith in the world. Sometimes we all need an extra reminder that God is faithful and walks with us 24/7.
Finally, the appointed lesson from Mark’s gospel provides a none-too-subtle reminder to be alert and awake rather than falling into worldly complacency. As people of God, we cannot afford to rest on our liturgical laurels and churchy conventions in the midst of the pain and suffering around us. We are called to “stir it up” and be active in the world.
We are cracked pots, reduced sometimes to shards of self, but always able to be redeemed, refashioned and remade into beautiful, functional, and useful creations of the master potter. Yes, during this season of Advent, we are invited into the process of reformation, of being re-formed for the work of the reign of God and the return of the King of Kings. People look east…the time is coming and we are part of the plan.
Peace and blessing on your proclamation and teaching. May you find time for reflection, renewal, and reformation in this fallow yet formative season.
Consider inviting a potter to come work at the wheel during worship. Perhaps have an interactive time where he or she could talk about the process of taking a lump of clay, working and preparing it, throwing it, firing the greenware, choosing and applying glaze, and completing a finished product. Have the potter reflect on the creative process in light of the lesson from Isaiah. If you don’t have access to a potter, you can find videos on the Internet to show. You could also invite members of the congregation to come to an area to work with clay before, after, or during parts of worship.
What does it mean to “keep awake” in the context of the lesson from Mark’s gospel. What was Jesus talking about? How do we walk “awake” in the world? Can we live without really being fully awake and alive to what is happening around us? What signs of Jesus present and active in the world have you seen this week?
Consider purchasing party size tubs of PlayDoh. Make a sticker for the inset lid to fit the lesson from Isaiah. Perhaps you could include the words “Child of the Potter” and Isaiah 64:8-9. Talk to the children about what it means to have God form us and fashion us for service. It is a process, one we undergo all of our lives. If you don’t want to use commercial play clay, make your own from simple kitchen ingredients, place a handful in a baggie along with the recipe and references to this lesson. Click here for recipes. Remind children that in God’s hands they are wonderful, creative works of art–fearfully and wonderfully made.