Advent 1. Isaiah 64: 1 – 9
Sermon by Reverend Charmaine Braatvedt
Today I propose to do two things in this sermon:
Firstly, I would like to introduce you to Isaiah and explain in part, why the lectionary focuses on the book of Isaiah during Advent this year.
Secondly, I would like to highlight one verse in the passage set for today that impressed itself on me as I read the set text.
It is verse 8 which is the one that uses the image of a potter and clay.
Firstly, meet Isaiah.
His name means “The Lord Saves”.
This Old Testament prophet is widely regarded as the greatest of the writing prophets.
He was a prophet for the kingdom of Judah, and lived around 740-700 B.C.
He began his ministry in 740BC the year King Uzzaiah died.
He was a contemporary of Amos, Hosea and Micah.
Isaiah was married, had two sons and spent most of his life in Jerusalem.
Rabbinic tradition has it that he may well have been of royal blood.
His familiarity with priestly rites has also led people to believe that Isaiah had a close association with the temple.
The central message of the book of Isaiah is that God is the Holy One of Israel who punishes his rebellious people, but afterwards redeems them.
The book, consistently addresses the hedonism of Judah and the nation’s lukewarm attitude toward God.
The book unveils the full dimension of both God’s judgement, which is likened to fire, and God’s salvation which is likened to streams of water bringing life to a desert.
Isaiah denounces Israel for its spiritual blindness and deafness. The prediction is that because of this, God will judge Israel and she will be like a vineyard that will be trampled when the Day of the Lord, comes.
However God is also compassionate and merciful and in the prophecy we see that God will redeem his people by sending a messiah, a king descended from David, who will bring God’s salvation to all people. This messianic king will be the servant of the Lord and through the suffering of the servant king, salvation in its fullest sense will be achieved for Jew and gentile alike.
The book speaks of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, in a variety of ways—as a Branch, a Stone, a Light, a Child and as we have just seen, the King .
The New Testament writers recognized Isaiah’s special importance, quoting from it and alluding to it frequently. Isaiah is quoted in the New Testament more than any other prophet.
Many verses and phrases from the book of Isaiah have passed into common use in literature.
For example, there are seventy quotations from Isaiah in the Penguin Dictionary of Quotations …;
and Handel used much of Isaiah’s language in his great work called the Messiah.
So here’s why we are focusing on the Prophet Isaiah this Advent Season. As we wait metaphorically to welcome Jesus the Messiah once again this Christmas, it seems appropriate to reflect on the writings of the prophet who is most renowned for encouraging the people of God to turn from sin, to get their houses in order as they wait for the salvation that will come from God through his Messiah.
So now I am going to turn to the passage set for today, Isaiah 64: 1 – 9.
This piece of writing from Isaiah contains a message to the people which is written as a kind of sermon prayer.
The literary style is that of a lament.
Generally, a lament is a prayer that cries out to God from the midst of desperate grief, pain, or any circumstance that seems out of control.
It does so with the conviction, the faith, that God can and will bring relief. A lament is a profound statement of faith in God from the midst of utter human hopelessness.
As I said before, there is one verse in this lament that impressed itself upon me and that I would like us to reflect on today, it is verse 8.
“Yet you Lord are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
We are all the work of your hand.”
I brought some clay with me today.
If you were to describe clay to someone who had never seen it, how might you describe it?
It’s soft and smooth and squishy.
You can change the shape of it easily.
You can pat it out thin or roll it into a ball shape.
You can make all sorts of shapes and objects with it.
When I was growing up, I loved to play with the wet clay after the rains at the bottom of our garden.
The Bible talks a lot about clay actually.
Clay was a common material to the people in Isaiah’s day because they used clay to make lots of useful items like jugs, pots, oil lamps and dishes.
“Yet, O LORD, You are our Father. We are the clay, You are the potter; we are all the work of Your hand.”
- Who is the clay? We are.
- Who is the potter? God.
- What is the role of the potter?
The potter moulds and shapes the material into something useful and beautiful.
- Why do you think the Bible compares us to clay?
Why doesn’t it call us rocks or bricks or something that is already finished being made?
Perhaps because God is always moulding us and shaping us. He is ever creating, redeeming and giving life.
- So in what way can those of us who are open to the transforming work of God be compared to clay?
As the song we sang earlier in the service intimates, when we submit to God’s authority in our lives we become like wet clay in his hands, allowing God our Father to teach us; to discipline us and to transform us to be more like Jesus.
In our natural state we are more like dry clay, brittle and inflexible.
However God’s Holy Spirit softens us and makes us malleable so that God is able to use the people and happenings in our lives to mould us.
Even when we face adverse circumstances and difficult relationships, God uses these difficult times to change us and shape us if we allow his Holy Spirit to make us like pliable wet clay.
What are the circumstances in your life at the moment that God might be using to shape and mould you?
What needs to change in your attitude and way of being at this time, for you to become more like Christ?
Do you think God will ever be finished with us, and we’ll turn into a hardened piece of clay?
I don’t think so.
I think He’ll always be wanting us to be growing and changing into something more and more beautiful according to His purposes.
I once heard about a 102 year old man who when asked why he thought God had spared him for so many years said:
“God must still have a reason for me to be alive. I think it is that he is still working in my life , shaping me to be more like Jesus”.
So let’s determine this Advent to stay soft and squishy and open to God so he can do His work in our lives that we might become more Christ like.
I’d like you to take the bits of clay you have been given and as you shape the clay into whatever you like I’d like you to reflect on how the Potter is moulding, shaping and forming you, as you do so I am going to ask the music group to sing the song the Potter’s Hand once again for us.
Beautiful Lord, wonderful Saviour
I know for sure,
all of my days
are held in Your hands
Crafted into Your perfect plan
You gently call me
into Your presence
Guiding me by Your Holy Spirit
Teach me dear Lord
To live all of my life through Your eyes
I’m captured by Your Holy calling.
Set me apart,
I know you’re drawing me to Yourself.
Lead me, Lord, I pray.
Take me, mould me,
use me, fill me.
I give my life to the potter’s hand.
Call me, guide me,
lead me, walk beside me.
I give my life to the potter’s hand.