Remember that we are the clay, and you are the potter. We are all the work of your hand. We are all your people. Isaiah 64:9 

Pottery sherd I found at Sepphoris, Israel, while on the 2020 Great Plains Holy Land Pilgrimage

Regifting happens during Christmas. Regifting is the act of taking a gift that has been received and giving it to somebody else, sometimes under the guise of a new gift. Rule # 3 in an article in Money Crashers, “8 Rules for Regifting Unwanted Gifts Etiquette,” says only brand-new items should be regifted. 

What happens then, when we regift ourselves back to God? What if we are slightly damaged, broken, even shattered like sherds of shattered pottery? Will God accept us in that condition? 

Pottery and pottery making is mentioned several times in the Bible. Isaiah and other prophets and preachers used pottery and pottery making as object lessons to teach spiritual truths. 

Making clay pottery requires an idea design, materials, and a process. A finished piece of pottery begins with an idea design in the imagination of the potter of what the final shape and purpose of the created piece will be. Materials such as clay, a pottery wheel, water, and a kiln to fire and dry the pottery to keep it from returning to mud and breaking are needed. The process of pottery making involves the selection of properly prepared soft clay made from mud, the shaping of the mud on the potter’s wheel by a skilled potter, and the firing of the piece of newly shaped pottery in a kiln. 

The prophet Isaiah passionately implores God not to give up on his people. He reminds God that the formation of the people is a work in progress, and God’s work with his people is not yet finished. He calls upon God to come down from heaven and return to the potter’s wheel and finish shaping them with his guiding, loving, and merciful hands.  

Isaiah confesses that the people have not been easy to work with (64:5b-7). The centrifugal forces and pulls of life pushed them to separate themselves from God’s shaping hands. They failed to yield to God’s will. They stopped calling on the name of the Lord and neglected to take hold of God as the center of their personal and communal life. The people chose to live life on their own, without remembering or seeking help and guidance from God for their daily lives. They experience the dread that comes from feeling God’s absence and hiddenness. Without God at the center of their lives, they became spiritually and socially wobbly and uneven, spinning out of control and out of relationship with God. As a consequence, God gave them up to their own sin (64:7). Nevertheless, Isaiah’s prayer reminds God that the people are still clay in his hands and still his people. 

The harsh experience of the exile has softened like clay the hardened and rebellious hearts and minds of the people. The people have tried life without God as their center; it brought them humiliation, loss, and suffering. They are now ready to be reconsolidated and reformed by God. They desire a restored relationship with God, to again call upon his name for help and guidance, gladly do right, remember God in their ways, and place God at the center of their life together. 

Isaiah stands between the people and God as the people’s pastor, priest, and prophet. He offers a gift to God that already belonged to God – God’s very own people. The people Isaiah offers God as a gift have been through some hard times. As exiles in Babylon, they had no form or majesty, they were despised and rejected, and held of no account. They were stricken, struck down, afflicted, wounded, crushed and bruised (Is. 53). The years of exile beat them down and broke them like thousands of unusable pottery sherd pieces.

Nevertheless, Isaiah has absolute faith that God has the power to restore broken people and broken relationships because God is faithful and merciful to keep God’s promise to never leave or forsake his people. His prayer appeals to God’s restorative mercy which is greater than all of their human brokenness, weakness, and sin. 

Christmas is a season for giving gifts; sometimes regifted gifts. We give because God so loved the world that he gifted us his only son Jesus Christ so we might have life, abundant and eternal. Many of us will give gifts this Christmas season to loved ones, to our church so the word and deed gospel can be shared, and to charitable organizations so others can be cared for, fed, clothed, and housed. One important gift we can include is the surrender and regifting of ourselves to God, even if we find ourselves in this season of Advent spiritually wobbly, broken, struck down, wounded, crushed, bruised, or disconnected from God. Regifting ourselves to God will cease our sense of loneliness and abandonment. Pope Francis in his book, The Church of Mercy, says that in surrender to God, we will discover a fuller existence, lit up by faith and the love of the living God. We will find a love of God so great, so deep, a love so unfailing that always takes us by the hand and supports us, lifts us up, and leads us on. 

Let’s regift ourselves to God this Christmas season – even if life has left us somewhat wobbly, broken, and shattered into bits and pieces. God will receive us with open welcome and joy! The message of Advent is that God is not finished with us yet. He continues to shape us and the world to be more loving, merciful and just through new life in Christ. We can regift ourselves to God this Christmas – even our brokenness and shattered pieces of our lives – and trust that our lives will be beautifully reconsolidated and shaped by the Master Potter for good works in Christ Jesus (Ep. 2:10). 

The Final Word

Scripture – I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. Ephesians 1:17-19(NRSV)

Reflection: The writer of Ephesians hears of the faith of the church in Ephesus. He remembers them, gives thanks for them, and prays for them.  He prays that they may know that Christ is and has the final word over all things. He prays that the church would come to know the hope to which God has called them, the riches of their eternal inheritance, and the immeasurable greatness of God’s power at work for them that has made them alive together with Christ who is seated at God’s right hand in heavenly places. 

He does not pray for healing of sickness, work for the jobless, food for the hungry, relief from threat of evictions, or a robust economy. His prayer does not deny human troubles; it assumes them. He prays that the Ephesians will focus on what God, the Father of Glory, has done for his Son Jesus Christ and all who place their faith in Christ. He desires they know that the exalted Christ is now enthroned in heaven as King over all creation. No flesh and blood, ruler, authority, cosmic power, or spiritual force of evil can ever defeat him. Christ’s power and reign is limitless, timeless, and cosmic, ultimately ruling above all kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, dictators, emperors, tyrants, and czars.

On this Christ the King Sunday, we are reminded that Christ the King is and has the final word over all created things, visible and invisible. We are invited to sing, bless, thank and glorify God who has raised and made Christ sovereign over all creation. The prayer reminds us that we are not helpless victims because Christ is now in charge and we belong to Christ. The same power of God at work in Christ is at work for us. This realization grows and matures over our lifetime.

We are bound by the experiences of human life. In spite of all temptations to surrender, we can persevere through life’s daily struggles because all the world is truly under the power of God in Christ. This precious knowledge of God’s power at work in Christ and for us is enough to enlighten the eyes of our heart, enabling us to live and sing praise to God with unshakable hope, especially when we face days of clouds and thick darkness (Ezequiel 34:12).  

The two stanzas below in the hymn, “This is My Father’s World,” best capture this hope: 

This is my father’s world. Oh, let me never forget that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet. 

This is my father’s world. Why should my heart be sad? The Lord is King. Let the heavens ring. God reigns. Let the earth be glad.

Author: Maltbie D. Babcock (1901)

Wising Up

Psalm 90:12 “So teach us to count our days so that we may gain a wise heart”

Reflection: The psalmist reminds us that life is short and precious. He writes in Psalm 90: Mortals fall asleep (die). They are like grass that flourishes and renews in the morning and fades and withers in the evening. Life is filled with toil and trouble, then it’s gone with a sigh – it flies away. 

The psalm’s message is not “deathophobic.” Rather, it reminds us to embrace and wisely use the brief life that we do have while we have it. It calls us to deepen the quality of our lives now with a wise heart centered in a full trust in God that leans toward wisdom, goodness, and love that blesses and makes a positive difference in the world.

Paul describes this kind of living this way: 

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9). 

The ongoing rising U.S. death toll caused by the coronavirus pandemic – 247,000 – has us at least thinking about the possibility of death more than which we are accustomed, especially when the virus touches our lives in one way or another. It also brings us to think about the purpose and quality of our lives.

My uncle Manuel, my dad’s brother, prematurely died of COVID-19 complications this past August. My three cousins and their children still ache over his physical absence from their lives. They are sustained by their hope in God’s unfailing love and by the quality and beautiful memories of my uncle’s love, goodness, and care for my aunt Anna Maria, for them, and their children. 

As I read and reflect on Psalm 90 within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the coming Thanksgiving Holidays, I solemnly think about and pray for all the families that will have loved ones physically missing from their lives and their tables this year because of COVID-19. May the blessed memory of lives wisely-lived by our absent loved ones and the quality of goodness, kindness, and love we received from them gladden our spirits and give us peace in knowing that our everlasting God is our dwelling place from generation to generation. And may God’s Spirit rest upon us, enabling us to live our brief lives with a wise heart and joy – before we fly away.

Listen to the Eyes

Scripture: Psalm 123 To you I lift up my eyes, O you who are enthroned in the heavens! As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the LORD our God, until he has mercy upon us. Have mercy upon us, O LORD, have mercy upon us, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud. 

Reflection: Mask wearing has made us listen more to people’s eyes. We can gather a lot of information about a person’s emotional state from looking at their eyes. Eyes can convey love, affection, cheerfulness, joy, and confidence. They can convey surprise, understanding, wonder, hope, trust, compassion, and mercy. Fear, anger, pain, sadness, judgment, worry, panic, and depression can also be detected when looking into someone’s eyes.  

Proverbs 30:17 listens and observes how a look of the eyes can convey mockery and scorn. Jesus said that the eyes are like lamps that are either lit or dimmed by the condition of our souls. If goodness is in one’s soul, the eyes are lit and bright. Darkness and evil in the soul, on the other hand, dims the light of the eyes. 

The prayerful eyes of the psalmist reveal the pain and darkness in his soul caused by the ugly and dehumanizing experience of scorn and contempt. The psalmist’s eyes also prayerfully communicate the light of trust and a confident expectation that God will respond to alleviate the dehumanizing effects of scorn and contempt on him and his community. 

While the eyes of the psalmist look to God, God also looks into the eyes of the supplicant and all who suffer scorn and contempt. God is moved by faithfulness and steadfast love to respond with mercy through the means of spiritual comfort and hope available through prayer and through the goodness, skills, means, and power of people committed to the common good of humanity. 

The prayerful plea of the psalmist resonates with many in our world that experience more than their fill of the ugliness of scorn and contempt. Like the psalmist, their eyes prayerfully lift up to God and to all people of good will entrusted with the stewardship of life-saving resources, policies, goods, and services that can restore and make whole their dignity and humanity. 

We have learned how to rely on and listen to the eyes, the windows of the soul, over the past eight months for communication because of the use of masks. We have listened to eyes that show scorn and hold others in contempt, and we have listened to eyes that have experienced scorn and contempt. We have also listened to eyes that show care, compassion, and mercy. When I reflect on the passages of Scripture where Jesus “saw” the people who came to him, I believe he saw into their souls by listening to their eyes then responded with acts of healing and mercy that brought wholeness. Jesus commands his disciples to do the same for others. May those held in scorn and contempt experience the listening eyes and healing acts of Christ and God’s goodness through us.