This study was undertaken during the Christmas season, with its focus on the Incarnation. The seasonal nature of that celebration tends to obscure the impact of such a momentous event. It is easy to be sentimental about a baby in a manger; and pick it up later at Easter time with a lot of talk, most of it not supported by scripture, about Jesus’ death. But that ignores what is probably among the most amazing – and most crucial – parts of the story, the statement in John 1:14 : “The Word became flesh, and lived for a while among us!
“Flesh”: a real, live person! Somewhere along the line, I think probably in the middle ages, “flesh” came to be considered “evil” or “sinful”. The NIV even translates it that way. That can not possibly be true, or Jesus would not have adopted it, or emphasized it to his disciples after the resurrection, when they were frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost – “A spirit has no flesh and bones, as you see I do!” Please refer to W.S. #85.
In the early church, the acid test of faithfulness (I Jn.4:1-3) was the acknowledgment that “Jesus Christ was come in the flesh!” that he was REAL. Hebrews 2 goes into considerable detail about why that was necessary, in order for him to definitively DESTROY death; but basically, it was because he knew that “show” was superior to “tell” when it came to forming a faithful Kingdom. “Tell” had been tried for a long time – the whole Old Testament period. The letter to the Hebrews makes it abundantly clear that “tell” did not work. That’s why Jesus decided he needed to “show.”
Even that, though, is only half of the story. The concept of Incarnation has TWO branches: Jesus becoming a genuine, human person for our benefit, and his people becoming a manifestation of his own Body (#84), for the benefit of the rest of the world! Incarnation has become OUR JOB! Fortunately, the Creator of the universe has graciously undertaken the task of creating that Body – which is a good thing, since we ourselves can be pretty clueless, and often mess things up royally!
Both Isaiah and Jeremiah referred to God as a potter, and his people as clay, although that analogy appears only once in the New Testament. Notice that God told Jeremiah, “Go down to the potter’s house, and there, my word will come to you!”
Since beginning to work with clay, I have learned many things about how the Lord chooses to work – starting long before a potter begins to form any vessel. I prepare my clay from scratch – digging and mixing it, to achieve a “clay body” which I can use. There are many ways in which this illustrates the effort the Lord expends, also, to create a Body he can use.
While in some places, usable clay can be found in a single deposit, in our area, successful pottery requires a mixture of four different kinds of clay, none of which is useful alone! This is also true of the Lord’s clay body.
The red clay is strong – but good for nothing but bricks. It cracks when shaped, bent, or rolled thin.
The yellow is smooth and pliable, but not strong enough to stand up by itself.
The gray is grainy. It doesn’t stain like the other two, but will not polish to a nice surface. However, I always add it if the pot is intended for cookware, as the grit helps it to resist thermal shock.
The white is sticky, and while it can be used alone if one works very slowly, it does not polish well, but it can be used to remedy the problems of some of the other types.
Before any of these can be used, they need to be powdered, soaked, and strained to remove gravel, sticks, roots, and assorted junk. This pounding and straining process does not change the “being” of any of the clays. They still have their created attributes to contribute to the mix, but they are no longer individually recognizable, and have become a part of something entirely new.
The clay cannot have the “junk” strained out without being wet. The proper amount of water at any time is essential. You are familiar with the references to “water” as the Holy Spirit. There are just a few attributes that are relevant here. It is not for nothing that Jesus told his disciples to WAIT for the Spirit to empower their assignment. At many points in the process of clay preparation, YOU HAVE TO WAIT. To get the mix properly strained, I soak it for a week or two, in order that the particles be completely absorbed and soak up as much water as possible.
Then, after straining, you have to WAIT again – while it settles, and excess water is poured off.
After it is dried to a consistency you can handle, if the proportions are not right, one or more ingredients can be added to improve the texture. At each point, the clay has to be thoroughly mixed.
When you are satisfied with the mix, it then has to WAIT again – to sit – for several weeks – to “mature”, to avoid separation. There is a difference between mixing and combining. I once tried combining two clays, because I thought it might “look nice”. But they cracked in the firing. Their shrinkage was not alike. Thorough MIXING is necessary for a successful product. A lot of talk is bounced around today about “diversity.” And that can be a good thing – but only if the diverse elements are MIXED, and not just “combined.” Otherwise, heat will ruin the product.
The forming of a pot, its finishing and firing, also require extensive experience on the part of a potter. They must be regulated by both the characteristics and content of the clay body, and the final result that is desired. (Jeremiah and Paul were not potters! The clay does NOT always perform as the potter may have in mind!) But as Jeremiah observed, if a pot is “spoiled”, the potter can readily use the clay for something else. Unfired clay is completely recyclable.
Perhaps the potter will adjust the mix, or even modify his earlier plan.
Perhaps he will need to work more slowly, allowing the clay to become partly firm before adding more.
Perhaps he will need thicker walls, to be scraped later to the shape and thickness he intended.
Perhaps it will be necessary to do preliminary smoothing and polishing before the piece is finished. Even after it is mostly dry, an even, polished surface may require the addition of a thin coating of finer clay, known as “slip”, to correct imperfections. Many hours of rubbing with a smooth stone are needed to create a good shine.
The firing, too, requires that the potter be very familiar with his clay, and know how much heat it can endure.. Earthenware, with its high iron content, cannot endure high-fire temperatures. It melts. But other clays, like fine porcelains, would crumble if only fired to low temperatures.
Our focus today, however, is simply upon the preparation of the clay body, and the Body into which the Lord intends to form his people, in order that we may actually become a credible part of the miracle of the Incarnation. I was not able to find a Gospel reference to the quotation attributed to Jesus in Heb.10:5, but I believe it is hugely relevant to correct many of the common misperceptions that have persisted in what is labeled “Christian doctrine”. Jesus says very plainly, (presumably to his Father), “You didn’t want sacrifices and offerings, but you fashioned a Body for me!” And after detailing some of the failings of the old system, he declares, “Look, I have come to do your will!”
If we are rightly to fulfill the mandate to participate in the Incarnation, it behooves us to find out what Jesus considers that it involves. Please refer to W.S.#23 as a starting place, and refer also to #84 and 85.
May we be properly strained, mixed, and blended into the Body that our Master Potter can use for his purposes!