A sermon based on Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 and Isaiah 64:1-9 preached on November 30th, 2104
The season of Advent is among us. Today is the first day of the Christian year as well as the first Sunday in Advent.
Advent is a journey through the darkness knowing that there is light up ahead. In Advent, we join the magi in their search for the Christ child—yes, there’s a star up above us, ahead of us—a dim but large light, but in order to see it more clearly—to see the One to whom it points, we have to travel through the dimness, we have to wait for that light to grow brighter and bigger.
Advent, though, is not a passive waiting. There’s walking to do. During these 4 weeks before Christmas Day, God wants us searching, scrounging in the darkness in front of us because we know that beyond it, there is brilliant light.
The waiting of Advent is an active waiting—a longing for our Savior to arrive among us—dispelling the gloom that falls heavy upon us, delivering us from our slumber, our brokenness, and our lostness.
It’s in Advent that God wants to shake us awake again—there’s news coming, news that will deliver us—that will change our hearts and lives and give us the hope of becoming whole again—that’s what real peace is—Shalom—wholeness, human wholeness—as we discover our humanity in the bright light of the coming Christ. But there’s no way to enter into the bright light of Shalom without first traveling through the darkness of Advent. There’s no way to know how great and secure our hope in Jesus is unless—like the Magi—we risk becoming vulnerable in our journey to Him.
The opening words from the prophet Isaiah: “If only…”
If only You would do the easy thing, God, and tear open the heavens and come down right now! Then everyone would know You, be reminded of Your power and glory, and change their hearts and lives.
I think that’s the easy fix Isaiah is daydreaming of. An instant mending of a broken world. A get-right-quick program of salvation—God just bursting in and making everything whole again. It doesn’t happen that way. We know it never does. We have to wait for healing like that. That’s what these 4 weeks of Advent are all about. It’s active waiting. Hoping God will mend what’s broken and mold us all into the shape of his coming Son.
When my parents were here several weeks back, I decided to take them to Heritage Station in Huntington. I had never been down there, so I was curious about what each shop had to offer. We waited until the kickoff of the Marshall football game because we knew there wouldn’t be anybody on the roads. It turns out everyone goes to the football game whenever Marshall’s playing because we were the only three there.
Many of the shops were closed but we enjoyed the few that were open. There’s one shop there called Lamb’s Gate Market. It’s a fair trade goods boutique. There are items from all over the world there—mostly from Central America, and 100% of their net profits are sent to an orphanage in Nicaragua.
The couple who own it travel back and forth between here and Nicaragua a few times a year and have developed personal relationships with the boys and girls in that orphanage. They sell some cute stuff in their tiny store—including some fair trade dark chocolate, which I can never turn down. I bought a bar with mango pieces in it.
Among the several treasures for sale at Lamb’s Gate Market are bowls, of all different sizes—small salad bowls and large serving bowls—made out of old World News magazines. They’re made in Central America by women who take the vitriolic content of our world’s media—something so often used to break down, to point blame, and to alienate us from one another—they shred it and give it a new purpose: they mold it into a serving bowl—something we use to nourish ourselves and others—the harmful nature of the world news melted down and molded into something that feeds, gets passed around a dining table, cultivates sharing, and builds us up in community.
What a profound statement of peace and hope each one of those bowls hold!
In the time when Isaiah 64 is written, the people of Israel are in exile. They’ve been kicked out of the Promised Land by a much larger army and are crying out to God in fear and despair. They feel forsaken and they wonder if God had left them. All the sanctuaries and others shrines of all the centuries of worshipping God were now destroyed—brought to ruin. Without the Land God has given them, Israel doesn’t know who they are—they’ve been displaced, physically, yes, but even more profoundly, spiritually. In these few years of exile, the Israelite people are confused and disoriented, formless and shapeless.
Isaiah speaks up on behalf of the people, admitting to God that they have sinned against Him—they’ve become unclean as a people—they’ve strayed from God’s instruction for them and instead have all too often gone their own way and done their own thing. And because of all their bad choices, the people’s distrust of God, Isaiah admits here to God, Israel has not lived according to God’s hope for them. But, Isaiah reminds God in verse 8—and it’s a big but. BUT, God, You have just as much responsibility to us as we have to You.
You, God, have promised to be faithful even when we screw up—remember the covenant You have made with us! Consider us—we are Your people!
Instead of forsaking us, God, do something new in us and for us! Melt us, mold us, reshape us into something new!
This is Isaiah’s prayer to God. Isaiah tells God that his people are like clay that needs to be molded in God’s hands. Melted into something God wants them to be. In the Potter’s hands, given a brand new shape and a brand new purpose.
Advent is that time for us. It’s our opportunity to stand in front of all the broken pieces and the shattered fragments we’ve made out of our lives and say to God,
Don’t forsake us, don’t leave us here inside in our brokenness—our misshapenness. Melt us down and re-mold us into a new creation! You are the Potter, may we be Your clay—clay in Your hands, O God! Make us into something purposeful—something used to serve, nourish, feed, and build up.
I’ve been introduced to the ancient Japanese art of kintsugi. It means “golden joinery.” It’s the practice of fixing broken pottery with a lacquer resin mixed with gold powder. It’s an art that dates backs to the 15th Century.
Whenever a piece of pottery was broken, instead of tossing it away, the Japanese would piece it back together, melding the broken shards back in place with this gold-color lacquer.
Rather than using a clear glue like we would these days, trying to hide the damage done to the piece of pottery, kintsugi is about using this shiny gold lacquer to actually highlight the brokenness of the vessel—to illuminate the cracks. It’s the art of focusing on the imperfections and making a vessel usable in spite of them.
Kintsugi became so popular that the Japanese would sometimes deliberately break a bowl or two so they could put it back together again with this shiny gold laquer. With kintsugi, the cracks in, and the repairs made to, a bowl simply become a part of a piece’s story—the breaking of a bowl becomes one event in the life of an object rather than its ending. Each illuminated flaw told a tale. Each imperfection was celebrated. Each bowl still purposeful—and with every gold-lined crack in it, it became an even more treasured a vessel.
Advent is when we take the shards of ourselves, all those imperfect fragments, all of our sharp edges—the brokenness of our lives—and hand them to God, piece by piece.
Entrusting all of ourselves into the hands of the Potter—so that we can be remade—re-purposed, melted and then molded once again, into usable vessels—made whole once again to serve in God’s Kingdom.
God is the Artist who, with skillful and gracious hands, pieces us back together again and molds us into new creations.
Advent is that time for us to come into God’s presence, cracks and all—with all the broken pieces of ourselves—and hand them over to God so He can melt us, mold us, into new vessels—fit for service and sharing.
God is the Artist who fashions a new way for us, who re-casts us into new people—God’s broken people made whole in the Potter’s hands.
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!