November 30, 2008
Isaiah 63:16-17, 64:2-7; Mark: 13:33 – 37
Things got away from me this fall, and the first snows fell before I had the opportunity to put up my bird feeder. But an opportunity asserted itself during this recent thaw, and now my feeder is up. It is filled with Gale’s songbird mix, and the birds are delighted. I love watching them, all that chirping and pushing one another trying to get the seed. So much activity but what a routine! Every morning as soon as the sun goes up they are out and about doing their thing. But as soon as it begins to get dark, they all return to their nests. I know it is silly to think this way but I wonder: do birds have any sense of time? Their days must all seem the same, one day after the other. Birds don’t know that today is Sunday or the end of November. And they certainly don’t know today is the first Sunday of Advent. Birds don’t use calendars, but humans do and that is significant. As arbitrary as our patterns of days and weeks and years may be, marking time is important. Every time we begin a new year, whether it is the calendar year beginning January 1st or the liturgical year beginning today, we are offered an opportunity to see a new beginning, to turn the page, to try again. So today we begin a new liturgical year. Today we turn the page, and we do so in faith because this upcoming year is not so much about what we are going to do but about what God is going to do for us.
Today’s first reading from Isaiah presents us with a beautiful image. Isaiah says that God is our father and we are the clay. God is the potter and we are all the work of God’s hands. The image of course is that of a potter molding clay on a potters’ wheel, shaping and re-shaping the clay to achieve what he potter desires. He first lays the base, then builds up the walls, then turns the lip. Isaiah’s image tells us that just as that potter molds the clay, God is molding us. God is forming us by the work of God’s hands. Now notice Isaiah does not say that God is the potter and we are the pot. The pot is the finished project. We are not the pot; we are the clay. We are the work in progress, the work that is shaped and reshaped by God’s love. None of us are finished.
When you take this image of the potter and place it with the beginning of a new year, the meaning is obvious. We are now beginning a year in which God will change us, in which God will reshape us. Now some of us here have been on the potters’ wheel for a long time. But none of us are finished. A new year means a new opportunity in which God will continue to form us. And who knows what changes God will make this year.
If we are young, perhaps we are still trying to figure out what to do with our lives or still looking for someone to share our lives with. This is a new year this could be the year in which God brings that search to an end. Some of us might be dealing with fear, with fear about our health, about our family, about our future. But we are not finished. God is at work. God can include in our lives confidence and courage so that we might be able to put our fears aside. Perhaps some of us are dealing with anger or resentment, and we want to let that anger or resentment go. But we have tried and tried, and we can see no way forward. Today we turn the page. We look forward believing that God is active and God can introduce into our lives some new shapes and curves that we have not expected. These changes might bring us to healing and give us the freedom to forgive.
A new year is a new beginning and God is still at work shaping and reshaping us. We not only believe that God can change us we believe that God is changing us. Because God is father, the changes that God is making are based on love. So we do not need to fear the year ahead. Options that are closed can be opened. Things that are lost can be found. What seems impossible can suddenly appear within our grasp. We believe that God is molding us, bringing us closer to the people God wants us to be.
Today’s Gospel gives us good advice. It tells us to stay alert, stay awake. God is active. God’s love will emerge. Be alert. Turn the page. A new year of God’s grace has begun.