Monday, November 21, 2011

First Sunday in Advent

"Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand."
-Isaiah 64:8

We got out our Christmas decorations today.  This is the time to start getting excited about Christmas.  (Insert joke about Target opening at midnight here.)  I'll admit, I'm listening to the music already, and half of my shopping is done.  But in these first weeks of the church year the lectionary isn't ready to talk about shepherds and wise men yet.  It jumps into Isaiah's dense and angry and hopeful prophesy.

Most children's Bibles don't bother with the prophets, so I'm impressed by the way Ralph Milton handles these verses in his Lectionary Story Bible.  Instead of paraphrasing the prophecy, Milton takes us back and tells the story of the prophet as his work is forming.  And to see inside Isaiah's head, Milton also introduces us to Rebekah, a child who talks with the old prophet.  The pairing of old and young, male and female, respected prophet and simple child--it's all obvious, but it works.  Through their conversation children are given an accessible entryway into Isaiah's words.  And we are all reminded that the Big Words of the Bible weren't dictated from On High, and they weren't the ramblings of a few lone priests and prophets.  These words were formed in community--written down and preserved by real people.

So Isaiah tells young Rebekah of his frustration with the people, and how he (notice this in the Bible passage as well, the anger does not come from God) wishes God would send an angry punishment.  And Rebekah calms him, reminding him that God loves like a Mother.

And all of this--from a Christian perspective--is part of the preparation for Christmas.  We've messed up.  Righteous people have a reason to be angry.  God has an excuse to be angry.  And yet God isn't angry, God loves us as a Mother; molds us as an Artist.  Through that love a new possibility is forming in these verses. 

I'm not entirely sure what I want to do with this space as I read through the lectionary this year.  But I would like to give back some resources to aid you in reading these verses with your families.  Do you have an Advent wreath?  If not, grab some clay or playdough and make some simple holders for candles.  Traditionally there are four outer candles to be lit the four Sundays before Christmas, and one in the center to be lit on Christmas.  Advent starts on Sunday, so you've got a few days to remember what drawer those candles are hiding in.  As you squish your clay, read from Isaiah 64:1-9, and then share the prayer below:

Steady God, when we mess up, you are our Mother, rocking us close.  When our hearts burn with anger, you are the Potter, molding us for the work that comes next.  Right now we are lumps of clay, still forming, uncertain of what we will be next.  Be with us in the waiting, as we wonder what we will become.

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