How do we prepare for Advent in this unprecedented time?

by Ben Cheng
First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 63:16B-17, 19B; 642-7

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

Mark 13:33-37

We now come to the season of Advent, the season of vigilance, expectation, and waiting. The first reading is taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah. It describes the passionate expectation of Israel, during their time of exile in Babylon, which was the ultimate calamity for Biblical Jews. The nation was destroyed, the temple was burnt down, and the people were carried away to distant land. We may ask how could God allow this to happen? For 70 years, the Israelis were waiting in exile. They felt anguished; looked upon the Lord and wondered, "Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you" (Isa 63:19). It is not a language of praise, but rather anger and deep disappointment. Can we identify with the same Babylonian exile today? We are captive, exiled from where we want to be, and we feel the same anguish of the exiled Israelis. Maybe we are so fearful about the coronavirus situation, the devastating disease, or in a time of great financial, emotional, and psychological distress, or an unknown future. We may ask how long, Oh Lord, would we wander in this place of depression and anxiety? “For you have hidden your face from us and have delivered us up to our guilt” (Isa 64:6). It appears as though God has hidden himself, and so we cry out with anguish to our Lord.

How do we make sense of all these? The Bible continues, “Yet, LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you our potter: we are all the work of your hand” (Isa 64:7). May I invite you to let that image sink into your heart. This is exactly the way the Biblical author has offered to us. We are all the work of God’s hand! Let us unpack this image. A lot of people in our culture are haunted by a deist conception of God, a God as a distant being or cosmic force. But the God of the Bible is the exact opposite. He is intimately involved in the work of creation and redemption, and in the world at all times. Saint Irenaeus of Lyon, the great church father said, "God is unmade as He is the Creator, but we and all of creation are continually being made" (Adversus Haereses, Bk.2, Chap.10, 4). God is sovereign and He is the maker, and we are like clay, simple, humble, and apt to be shaped. Here is another image from St. Irenaeus, and he said that as long as the clay remains moist and supple, responsive to moves of the maker, the shaping process is relatively painless. In contrast, if the clay becomes brittle and hardened, it can break under the influence of the potter. This great image represents our spiritual life. It is exactly what happened in the disobedience of Adam, the supple clay becomes brittle. It is when our own selfish will and pride come in full, the shaping that God wants to effect in us becomes painful, difficult, and at its limit, impossible. We can be so resistant to God that He cannot mold us.

Therefore, the key question is what kind of clay are we? Here does the idea of waiting and watching come into play. The steps involved in making a piece of pottery are time consuming –
finding the right clay, putting it on the wheel, turning it, molding it with thumbs and fingers, shaping the desired piece, and then carefully placing it in the oven to fire it. At all times, the clay is passive, and it allows itself to be molded. Likewise, God shapes us precisely through our minds, will, and freedom, and our basic attitude is one of waiting, hoping, and watching. What do we watch for? Perhaps we are in the process of God pressing His thumbs and fingers into us, in precisely where we have protruded, forcing out where we prefer to stay in. Perhaps God is starting over again after our resistance may have spoiled His first attempt. Maybe God is shaping us in a certain way, but we may become so brittle, so reactive that we break, and God carefully tries again. Are we being placed in the oven so that we may conform to the shape that God has intended, those hard and painful times in our life, times that are like fire? What we should do all these times is exalting in what God is doing and working in us. Are we looking with expectation toward the people that God wants us to be, no matter what the cost is?

Like ancient Israel in exile, we are all to some degree in the land of exile. We wait, watch, and cry out to the Lord. While we are doing so, we keep this master image in mind, we are clay, and we are passive in God's hand, but here is this great heavenly master, not in a distant figure from us, carefully molding us into the people He wants us to be. Wait for it, and watch for it. That is a very good Advent attitude.

This is an excerpt from Bishop Robert Barron’s homilies, including
“We Need A Savior”, “Watching For Grace”, “A People Who Wait”and “The Potter And The Clay”. For more information, please visit