The first reading for this first Sunday in Advent (from the second lectionary) comes from Isaiah. While the beginning of the readings stresses the sinfulness of all the people and their experience of guilt, the reading ends with this: “we are the clay and you are the potter; we are all the works of your hands” (Isaiah 64:8).
Advent is the season in which we prepare not only for the coming of Christmas, but also for the Second Coming of Christ. As we move into Advent, we can ask the question, am I ready for that meeting? The Isaiah reading resonates with me, as I consider all the aspects of my life that are not yet ready. Perhaps many of us have moments in our lives where we, too, feel like “polluted rags” or “withered leaves,” heavy either with sin or with a sense of loss and decay.
Our culture, and sometimes even our religion, encourages us to think that the right response to our own failings is to find a way to “fix ourselves.” Or we might try to repair a broken relationship, or act to help others with their problems. Our culture of modernity emphasizes the self-made man or woman. Yet Isaiah’s words are the opposite. “We are the clay and you are the potter.” These words from Isaiah invite us to surrender to God. To allow ourselves to be clay in God’s hands and to entrust our lives to God. We do not even get to choose what kind of clay we are. If we are honest, we know both of our own gifts and our own shortcomings, and often both sides of ourselves are beyond our own control. In Advent, we entrust ourselves to God and ask that God can create and re-create us so that we will be ready for the coming of Jesus.
In past prayers, I’ve connected to the idea of the “earthen vessel” made of clay that God shapes. In Catherine of Siena’s Dialogue, she describes the human soul as akin to a vessel of clay that must remain close to the Fountain. It’s only by remaining empty in one sense, and being engaged with our sense of internal poverty, that we make room for the One who is the Fountain of love to enter in. I recall with fondness a parish priest whose homily described us all as like cracked pots, to which he added: “We’re all crackpots!” much to the church’s amusement and nodding agreement. Advent, though, reminds us that we are still malleable, still in the process of being re-shaped, not earthen vessels formed once and for all but clay still in the potter’s hands.
As we enter into Advent, we can each ask: where in my life have I not yet surrendered to God? What part of my self, my relationships, my desires, or my activities can I give over to the gentleness of the Creator’s hands?