December 3: A Work of Your Hands (Advent 1B)

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay and you the potter: we are all the work of your hands.” Isaiah 64:2-7.

As we begin this Advent and the liturgical season — we turn to the Gospel of Mark. It is the shortest of the gospels, and the oldest, written around 70 AD.

Today we listen to Mark 13, which comes close to the end of Mark. Next week, in Mark 1, we’ll consider the Advent figure of John the Baptist.

Today, Jesus tells us to be alert and watchful in the expectation of what God’s grace can spark in us.

Advent is a time of waiting. We wait in an incomplete world — mindful of all of its wonder and most especially those in great need.

The prophets of old, like Isaiah, also were on the lookout for what God can do in us. Isaiah says: “We are the clay and you, the potter: we are the work of your hands.”

As I was attentively listening to last evening’s Christmas Concert at Santa Catalina, I was brought back to the memory of teaching high school in New Jersey, so many years ago.

Seton Hall Preparatory also had an annual Christmas concert for families, faculty, and staff. That year I was teaching sophomore Religion, and I had a young man in my class who was an excellent student, played on the football team, as I recall.

At that Christmas concert, much to my surprise, this second-year student went onto the stage and to the grand piano where he played a Chopin selection. He wowed the audience!

Later at the reception, I told Sean’s parents I did not realize from my classroom experience, how gifted their son was – as a musician — and now hearing him at the piano. How would I know, until I heard him play so wonderfully?

Along came his piano teacher, an older Jewish woman from Newark, so proud she was — that she took Sean’s hands and announced to me and those around: “He has the hands of Vladimir Horowitz!”

Well, Sean did graduate, then he attended Oberlin College, so famous for music education.  But he was not a Horowitz. Instead, he became a lawyer.

Occasionally, piano teachers like prophets are “truth-tellers,” but they are not fortune tellers and don’t predict specific events or outcomes. Instead, they see promise, look out for potential growth, and see into the soul for genuine “character.”

This past week, my friend Kim returned from a Chicago meeting where a foundation that she works for – awarded a dozen or so full academic scholarships to the most outstanding high school students in our country.

Over the year that she has worked on this foundation, from week to week, I heard the great excitement in her voice. Her job was to read the countless applications, interview semi-finalists, then provide an evaluation of each student candidate, and at the last meeting, together with the committee, they try to determine the “very best of the best.”

“No easy task,” Kim tells me. Maybe it’s a frightening task! Indeed, how may this scholarship truly affect a person’s life?

So what characteristics do you look for? What are the criteria? Some accomplishments, after all, we’re talking high school. Perhaps, the need and family background are considerations?

But to my mind, it’s mostly the potential for growth.

Who’s that candidate with a few talents whose knowledge, curiosity, and imagination might take root during the four years of a college or university experience? This advantage now could benefit a lifetime of good work, and hopefully provide an insight for a life-force of service to others.

By the way, that’s what Isaiah the prophet was looking for. As a seer into people’s souls, he was on the lookout for someone in the heart of his community who would make a difference for others.

It’s those gifts of the spirit that only a prophet or a piano teacher, a coach, or a friend might see in you.

But recall that Isaiah adds: “Oh Lord, you are the Father, we are the clay and you are the potter. We are all the work of your hands.”

So in this time of Advent, Isaiah is expecting a huge God capable of doing great things. He is working in us — as he comes to us in the human face of God in Jesus Christ.

Again, Isaiah: “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen such deeds, any God but you – doing such deeds for those who wait for him.”

So, as Jesus said to his disciples: “Be watchful! Be Alert!

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

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