Tiger Woods and General Motors have officially and amicably parted ways. Last week GM ended its nine year endorsement deal with Woods. With GM struggling for its very survival, it no longer made sense to pay Tiger $7 million a year to carry a Buick golf bag and schmooze with GM officials at the Buick Open at Warwick Hills Country Club in Grand Blanc.
An article in last Monday’s New York Times began, “The bad news keeps coming to Michigan, a state long stuck in recession and at ground zero in the national economic downturn. But unlike in months and years past, there are no exceptions to the despair, not even here among the bucolic resort communities along Lake Michigan.” Like almost every family in our country, including yours, Gary and I have family members who have looked for employment for several years, whose unemployment benefits have run out, whose jobs have been downsized, and who can’t sell their homes. Now that the Christmas season is in full swing, retailers may feel the pinch as we watch our dollars more closely and make hard decisions about gift-giving and holiday traveling.
Fortunately, the promise of Advent is that God’s endorsement deal with us isn’t ever going away. The old covenant which God made with Abraham, sealed by the physical mark of circumcision, has been replaced with a new covenant, which is now written on our hearts. God choose to take on human form, to become one of us, to send us a Savior in Christ Jesus.
At the same time, however, we lament, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!” So begins the Old Testament lectionary reading for yesterday, the first Sunday in Advent. In my more pessimistic moments, I, too, am tempted to echo Isaiah’s plea (64:1-9), “So God, what about this endorsement deal you made with us, to be our God and never leave us? Come on down because we’re suffering, and we need you to fix the mess we’re in!”
In chapter 64, the prophet we call Third Isaiah is speaking after the Jews have returned home to Palestine from Babylon in 539 B.C., after almost 50 years in exile. The Jews believed that if only they could go home, things would be okay, just the way they always were. But it wasn’t to be. Life was very harsh for the returning exiles, with intense conflict over the rebuilding of the temple. Most of all, the Jews still couldn’t seem to obey God.
Isaiah begs God to descend in power and majesty as in the days of old at the Exodus. You did it before, God, so do it again. At the same time, Isaiah admits that the Hebrews themselves are responsible for the fix they were in. He is well aware of the sin of Israel and waffles between accusing God of hiding God’s face and unjustly condemning Israel and, on the other hand, recognizing that Israel continues to forsake God.
Then we get to verse eight. “Yet.” Despite Isaiah’s despair at Israel’s sin, he says, “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter.” If God is, indeed, the potter, and we are the clay, whom will we allow to mold us? Will we allow our culture or our economy to mold us? Will our fears mold us? Will our parents or peers mold us? Or will we allow God mold us? Who is going to be our potter? Imagine letting yourself go. Imagine allowing the potter to do whatever the potter desires with you. What is the world going to see when they look at you? Who or what is shaping your life at this very moment: on December 1, 2008?
Molding and shaping clay involves patience on both God’s part and our part. Shaping clay doesn’t happen immediately. We have to keep shaping, reshaping and shaping again, don’t we? In the same way, our lives never quite become the masterpiece that we want it to be. As John Wesley so often reminded us, we are continually moving on to perfection.
Don’t yearn for the time when you will graduate from the potter’s wheel. Don’t long for the day when the clay of your life will be perfectly formed. Don’t complain about the continual reshaping, for the shaping is your life. God will never be finished with us. But that’s okay, for God is not in a hurry.
Many years after Isaiah’s plea, God did tear open the heavens and come down through the Jesus, the Christ child. Why? To do hands-on molding. Molding has a purpose, for God wants to shape us into something useful. Today we buy pottery that is meant to sit on the coffee table or in a display case. When the Egyptians first started making pottery around 7,000 B.C., however, the first items were utensils. God, the potter, doesn’t just want us to look pretty. Nor does God care if we are perfectly formed. God wants us to be functional and fruitful. Will you yield yourself completely to the potter this Advent?
There’s one more thing about clay. Sometimes clay pots break, develop leaks or have small cracks. Clay pots are fragile, aren’t they? Especially God’s clay pots, because God is not like a factory, mass producing perfect pots using the latest technology. No, God is a potter patiently sitting at the potter’s wheel, turning out pots one at a time, unique and beautiful, but always slightly flawed.
What happens in the world when pots break? They’re discarded. They’re thrown into the trash. They’re forgotten. Not so with God. In God’s great economy, nothing goes to waste. When God’s pots break, God can use our very brokenness to bring hope and healing to a broken world.
The key to this greatest endorsement deal of all is the molding. It’s only when we take responsibility for our lives and our decisions that God can do the shaping that is necessary to form us into faithful, generous, bold and outer-directed disciples of Jesus Christ. Rather than buying a clay pot this Christmas as a gift for someone else, how about being a clay pot instead?
“Mold me and make me after thy will, while I am waiting, yielded and still.”