We the clay; God the Potter. He is God; we are not God. And that is good, even when it appears not to be good.
The prophet Isaiah foretells the coming day of destruction, when the proud armies of Babylon would breach the walls of Jerusalem, take the people captive, and destroy the temple, the dwelling place of God. Not good, at least by Israelite standards. Why does God let such things happen? Why does He let His own house be destroyed?
Will you restrain yourself at these things, O Lord?
Will you keep silent, and afflict us so terribly?
There are no easy answers. No simple religious formulae. No bargains to strike. No negotiations. There is only faith, trust in the promise of mercy. “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.”
To be clay in the hands of God is to be utterly shaped by His will, His good and gracious will to save. “What God ordains is always good.” Clay has no say about what the potter will do with it. An ordinary mug, a plate, a fine piece of art – it’s all up to the potter to shape and mold the clay into what He wills.
We are clay, formed from Adam’s mud. Out of clay God made man in the beginning. Adam means “mud man,” made from the earth, fashioned in God’s own image and likeness, a perfect reflection of the Creator to the creation. Out of Adam’s clay, God made woman, Eve, the mother of the all the living.
The divine Craftsman sits at His wheel and shapes the clay, pushing and pulling it. Every touch has purpose; every movement meaning. When a potter makes a jug and pulls down the lip at the end, leaving his thumbprint in the clay, a signature. You have the imprint of God, His signature. He is your Maker. You are the work of His hands, and quite a piece of work you are.
God hates nothing He makes. He hates only that which would destroy His work, or diminish it to something less than what He made it to be. He hates sin and death. He hates what we do to one another, and what we do against Him. He hates rebellion and our stubborn refusal to receive His gifts. But He hates nothing that He makes, no matter how misshapen it might appear to our own sense of symmetry.
Does the divine Potter know what He’s doing? Is He good and gracious? Will His plan succeed? Can clay direct the hand of the potter? Can clay shape itself into anything more than the useless blob that it is? Can clay become a pot or a cup by its own purpose-driven will? In order for clay to be anything more than a pile of mud, it must be shaped by the hand of the potter.
Isaiah saw a near future of death and destruction for the nation Israel. He longed for the days when God appeared mighty, when He flexed His divine muscle to save His people. “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence…!” Bring it on, Lord! Tear open the heavens and get on your horse and ride! Show our enemies who’s in charge. Take charge, Lord! Do your thing!
Sounds like a solid program, doesn’t it? Get the Lord to take charge of things, and He’ll set it all straight. And He will, but never in the way we expect. Destruction of the city and the temple. Seventy years in Babylonian exile. Return and rebuilding. Not the way we would have orchestrated things, is it? Dying and rising never are.
Sin runs deep in our clay. It doesn’t belong there; God didn’t put it there. But it is so commingled with our clay there’s no getting rid of it by “cleaning up our acts.” Sin is more than skin deep. Isaiah speaks for the nation, and us, when he says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.” No much to look at, is there? Nothing to boast about, is there?
Even our best efforts fall short. All the pious talk about peace, joy, love, goodwill in the month of December finds its counterpoint in scenes of people trampling one another to get their hands on the latest electronic gizmo, cursing their fellow man in traffic jams and shopping lines; boozing, bingeing, belching their way through holidays that are anything but holy days.
Karen and I walk the neighborhood every day at six in the morning. The icicle lights are off, displays are dark. Inflatable Santas, and snowmen and reindeer lay flattened, deflated like road kill on a highway. We saw a flattened Santa slumped with his head dangling down over the edge of a roof looking as though he were going to take a header onto the front lawn. That’s a good picture of what Christ-less, cross-less holidays are all about – formless, void, empty, a pile of mud without shape.
“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come on down.” God did. The Father sent His eternal Word, His Son, to be clay in His Father’s hand. Conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, the Word became flesh, the Potter’s Son became our clay and dwelt among us in our dust.
At His Baptism, the heavens actually were ripped open, the Spirit descended in the form of a dove, the Father’s voice boomed : “The is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” At His death on a cross, the fulfillment of His Baptism, the curtain of the temple was torn open like the heavens. He entrusted His clay to the hands of the Potter. “Father, into your hands, I commit my spirit.”
Jesus took our clay into three day’s death, a Babylonian exile in the grave, and rose from the dead in Exodus victory. He gives us the victory. Our clay is destined to rise from the dead on His Advent Day, guaranteed by His own resurrection.
Clay is dirt mixed with water. Adam’s dust is drowned in baptismal water making malleable clay. Dying and rising, each and every day, shaped by the discipline of His forgiveness and freedom. We bear His thumbprint on our foreheads, His Name and His cross. We are being transfigured from glory to glory in His likeness.
The filth of our lives is covered with the purity of His life. Our sin displaced with His righteousness. Clay could not be in better hands than those blessing-filled, cross-pinned, risen hands with holes in them that reach out to us now in Word and Supper to embrace you as His own forever.
In the Name of Jesus,