I cannot claim to be a huge fan of weekly competition shows on television, but I do occasionally enjoy looking at The Great Pottery Throwdown. In particular I love seeing pots being thrown on a wheel. It is wonderful to watch, and it requires great skill and attention to detail. Transforming a lump of clay into a bowl, or a pot, or a plate is a joyous thing to witness. It is an important skill, as we all need vessels for eating, drinking, and storage.
Each Advent Sunday begins with a reading from the prophet Isaiah, for Isaiah is the prophet of the Messiah, and full of hope for the future. The prophet is looking forward to the redemption of Israel, the coming of the Messiah, a new future after exile. Against a picture of human sin, and rebellion against God, there is the implicit possibility of something better. In those times when God can seem absent, it may be that God, as a loving parent, is giving us space and time to reflect and repent. Isaiah is convinced of the power and the love of God, to remake us, and restore us, and to enrich us with his grace.
At the heart of Isaiah’s message is the conviction that God can and will remould us. As he says:
But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. (Isa 64:8)
The image of God as a potter, shaping and reshaping clay to create something beautiful and useful, is a hopeful one. We are never written off, rather we are a work in progress. This metaphor is a good one for the spiritual life: the closer we get to God, and the more we let God be at work in our lives, the more He can fashion and refashion us. In Genesis (2:7) God forms humanity out of the dust of the ground, and throughout the Bible this imagery is used to remind us that God is a caring creator, and we are His creation. He loves us, and we can trust Him.
The season of Advent, which begins today, is a season of preparation, of getting ready. The Church gets ready to meet Christ: first in the annual celebration of His Birth at Christmas, and in His Second Coming as our Saviour and our Judge. During the four weeks of Advent the Church ponders the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. It is good to think about such things: our earthly lives are finite, but afterwards we have an eternal destiny. The Church believes that Christ was born, lived died and rose again to give us the hope of eternal life in Him. In the grand scheme of things, what really matters are our souls and our lives: who and what we are, what we do, and why we do things.
We, here, this morning, are Christians living in the time between Christ’s Resurrection and the end of the world. We are told to be ready, and to spend our time considering the four last things: Death, Judgement, Heaven, and Hell. They await us all, each and every one of us, so how will we prepare for them?
In this morning’s Gospel, our Lord tells us to stay awake, to be on our guard, to be prepared, because we do not know the time when our Lord will return in glory to judge both the living and the dead. Jesus wants us to be vigilant and to live out our faith so that we can be ready to greet Him whether He returns today or in thousands of years time.
How we live our lives matters, it affects who and what we are, and the world around us. We have but one life to live hereon Earth, and we must try, with God’s grace, to do the best we can. We live in a world which does not care about such questions. Our actions affect us, our character, our lives, and the lives of people around us — our actions have consequences, which is why our lives and how we live them matter. What we do and say matters and Jesus calls all people to repentance — to turn around and change the whole of their lives and follow Him in their thoughts, their words, and their deeds — for the Kingdom of God is close at hand.
We are not being left alone in all this. God both tells us the nature and source of the problem, and provides us with a solution. He even helps us along our way: strengthening and encouraging us to turn our lives around, and follow Him. We are told to be vigilant and take care of the state of our lives and our souls, and of those around us.We must be awake, rather than indulging in the self-satisﬁed sleep of sin.
The Gospel this morning encourages us to vigilant.This is something that we have had to be during this time of pandemic. As well as our physical health, however, we need to take care of our spiritual health as well, it is the most important thing that we can do.
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. (Mk 13:32-33)
There is no way that we can know when Jesus will return, so all that we can do is to vigilant and be alert. We can live lives that demonstrate our readiness by living out our faith, here and now, every single day. In order to do this we are helped by God’s grace, His generous love towards us. Also we can rely upon God’s strength, and not our own weakness, to live lives of faith, hope, and love together, as a community called the Church. We can help and support each other, we can pray for each other, we can love and forgive each other and help to make the Kingdom a reality here and now.
St Paul writes words of encouragement to the Church in Corinth, telling them of God’s generosity:
so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, (1Cor 1:7-8)
The Good News is that God has already given us what all that need. His grace is limitless and inexhaustible. So, as we begin our Advent journey towards Christmas may we be encouraged to stay awake and be vigilant. Let us be reliant upon God’s grace, and built up in love together. Let us be renewed by the God who loves, heals and sustains us, so that we may sing the praises of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed, as is most right and just, all might, majesty, glory, dominion and power, now and forever. Amen.