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Prayer of illumination:
As fire kindles brushwood, God ignite our spirits this day through the reading of your word. Speak to us in these Advent days- in the waiting and watching, in the sighing and rejoicing- that we might gain a deeper awareness of the Word made flesh coming to dwell among us. Amen.
During the season of Advent, we enter a time of waiting. Though we know the whole story, from the birth of Christ to his death and resurrection, we pause each year to anticipate the birth of the Savior, whose birth brings hope to the nations. We don’t jump straight to Christmas but instead we prepare our hearts once again for God to come and make a home among us. There are many events we look forward to during this season, but the coming of the child who will turn our world around is our focal point. Advent slows us down so that we can remember why we even needed this child to be born in the first place.
In worship this Advent our conversations with God will be sparked by the prophet Isaiah, who brings words of a people who knew all too well what it was like to wait. The people of Israel had been exiled from their land and their temple was destroyed. As they wait for God to bring restoration, the people cling to memories of God’s steadfast love and presence that is powerful enough to shake the mountains. These thoughts bring hope even while feeling God, “you have hidden your face from us” (Isaiah 64:7). The people feel abandoned by God, but God wonders, “where are those who used to walk in my ways and call upon my name?” Perhaps we too can relate to feelings of wanting God to come down and save us, while also realizing that we have been a contributing factor to the troubles around us and to the times we’ve felt separated from God. Advent situates us in this tension and asks us to to slow down.
So as we wait, let us listen to God’s word from the prophet Isaiah:
One thing I enjoy experiencing each year is the changing of the seasons. I love watching the leaves turn colors and fall to the ground to crunch under my footsteps. If I’m lucky I make it up north at least once to catch a glimpse of the fall foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There’s something about admiring the change of the seasons that reminds us of the cycle of life and leads us to reminisce about how things were last year and consider where we want to be next year. Time spent out in creation also has it’s way of waking our awareness to a gratitude for God’s presence here and now. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that in the very beginning, God fashioned humankind out of the topsoil of the land and breathed life’s breath into us (Genesis 2).
I’ve always been in awe too of what humans have been able to create out of the ground. Growing up in North Carolina, I often went on journeys to the town of Seagrove that is home to hundreds of potters. There is something mesmerizing about watching a potter spinning clay on the wheel. This piece is one of my favorites, because a potter used pieces of broken glass to create a unique color on the piece.
While in college, I had the opportunity to take pottery for my art class credit and let me tell you, it’s not as easy as it looks! The perfectionist and busy-body side of me had a hard time adjusting to the slow process and patience it took to form just one small bowl. The most difficult but crucial aspect of making pottery is centering the clay. It takes just the right amount of pressure and water to smooth and center the clay. If it’s too loose, the clay flies off the wheel. If you are too tense with the clay, it will throw the clay off balance until it begins to wobble and you have to start all over again. I was able to make a few things worth keeping, but now I prefer to just appreciate the pottery that others make! (Like this nativity set that came from Peru). It is amazing that all the things that have been falling to the ground and decomposing for years could turn into clay and be molded into a creation such as this (hold up bowl).
I am jarred by the way the words of Isaiah 64 turn the soothing image of the falling leaves into the image of our sins carrying us away like leaves in the wind. The earthy images in Isaiah confront us with the power and beauty that can come from creation but also how creation can really get messy. As the people of Israel lived in exile they longed for what their life had been. They prayed to God for something new and blamed God for abandoning them. But continuing in chapter 65, God responds, “I was ready to be found by those who didn’t look for me. I said, “I’m here! I’m here!” to a nation that didn’t call on my name. I extended my hands all day to a rebellious people walking in a way that isn’t good, following their own plans” (Isaiah 65:1b-2, CEB).
At the turning of the Advent season, we become aware of the ways we wish our lives and our world were different and we too anticipate the day when God will restore all things. We join centuries of God’s people in rejoicing in the hope that Christ brings. But we’re also confronted our own habits, actions and viewpoints that have drawn us away from God or become iniquities that take us away like leaves in the wind. Blown away from God’s presence, away from God’s people in need, away from the ways of living that the Son of God was born to embody. We’ve turned away from a life filled with hope, peace, love and joy. As it turns out, this is what Advent is all about.
What has turned us away from God presence? What has made us feel that God has abandoned us? What sins have caused us to fade like a leaf and blow away from the life we have been called to live as children of God?
One thing that plagues our American lives is the way we have glorified being busy. We live in a time where more is better and our response to “How are you?” has become, “I’m good, I’ve just been SO busy.” The pressure to succeed and perform is insurmountable from a young age. It seems like our grasp is clenched on tight to gaining those feelings of productivity and accomplishment after squeezing in one more meeting or activity. I don’t know about you but my busy schedule has swept the joy from one too many moments with God and my friends and family.
On the list of things I wish God would reshape, our busy culture is one.
In the face of it all, we may want to look up and ask- God where are you? Why have you hid your face from us? But if we look down, we might also see how we have either directly or indirectly been responsible for the way things are. So where does that leave us?
We need a TURNING. Not a make-up test but a complete turning into something new- a new way to think, to live, to be in relationship- with God and each other and even a new way to see ourselves. Like the clay turns on the potter’s wheel, we need a TURNING. We need God to tear open the heavens and come live with us. The kind of turning and restoration we need can only come from a God who has the power to shake the mountains and calm the seas and who could be found in the mighty hills of creation and in the tiniest baby born in a manger.
There is hope in the fact that God has and is and will continue to shape our world into the place it was created to be. There is hope in the midst of the mess this Advent because God is indeed coming down to dwell and heal and turn things upside-down. There is hope because despite the ways we have fallen short, we hear the prophet proclaim:
“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are our potter; we are all the work for your hand” (Isaiah 64:8).
We need this reminder- that God is the potter and we are the clay. God is the one with hands powerful yet gentle enough to bring life out of the ground. As God’s people we are formable and filled with possibility but susceptible to the winds and sins of the world. We often cling so tightly to our own needs and fears and walk according to our own plans. So, we desperately need a release from what we hold onto so tightly and instead to be centered and turned on the potter’s wheel.
Have we forgotten that we are the clay and not the potter who is shaping and making the plans? God is the one bringing the way of joy and peace to us and God hopes that we will be shaped by this way and in turn be reflectors the of hope that Christ brings. After all, unlike clay which is inanimate, we as God’s children are not complacent in the turning. Perhaps this Advent the turning we need is to we need is let go and prepare for the potter to pull us out of the dirt and shape us into something new. We are partners with the potter, being formed into disciples who can make choices that shine the light of Christ in the world.
(LIGHT UP candle in clay nativity set)
This Advent, I pray that we slow down long enough to be centered and turned on the potter’s wheel. As you do, pay attention to how that changes you and the choices you want to make. Let your life and your relationships be shaped by the hand of the potter, who is sending the one and only son to be born on earth. This baby comes to turn the world upside-down by lifting up the lowly and scattering the proud, by welcoming all to the table- rich and poor and by working for a world where the lion will lay with the lamb. This Advent we wait and we hope for a world such as this. We wait, we hope…and we pray, O God let there be a turning.
Rev. Allysen Schaaf
Decatur Presbyterian Church
December 3, 2017
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
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Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
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