The Banquet on the Mountain Top


Photo by Jorge Fernández Salas on Unsplash

Our Advent desert journeying is unlike that of Lent. We are not so much wrestling with demons as with images of abundance, lavish promises, theology we can almost grasp.

The banquet on the mountain-top of which Isaiah speaks today is rather like the psalmist’s banquet in the sight of our foes: a not entirely comfortable experience. We have to make an effort ourselves, and be prepared to take the consequences. I wonder whether we ever think what that might mean when we read Isaiah 25? What is the effort we have to make to ensure our Advent is fruitful, and will that require us to make ourselves conspicuous in ways we would prefer to avoid? Shall we have to go against other people’s expectations; if so, how and why?

As lockdown ends and a new three-tier system of restraints begins in England, it would be easy to say the worst is over, we should just get back to ‘normal’ as quickly as possible. There is no end of often poorly-understood statistics and contradictory opinions to back that up. A more thoughtful approach, however, demands that we try to do what is prudent and in the best interest of others — and that is much less easy to decide. The point about that mountain-top banquet is that it isn’t just for one group — us — but for all; and in his humility and love, the Lord invites us to play our part in welcoming others to the feast. The question for us today, therefore, is how do we do that?

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And the World Goes On

Three days of silence at the beginning of Advent and one returns to find the world going on pretty much as usual. People are still murdering one another, hurling insults, performing random acts of kindness and generosity, shivering, smiling and making the best of things. Nothing has changed, and yet everything has. We are closer now to the coming of the Kingdom, both individually and as a community, than we were three days ago. We don’t often advert to the fact that, while time is linear, the point at which it intersects with eternity lies outside time. In this it reflects the nature of Advent itself, which is simultaneously a waiting for something yet to come and a celebration of that which already is.

This morning I was struck by the reference to ‘the hand of the Lord’ in Isaiah 25. It is a phrase we hear again and again in scripture, usually as an allusion to God’s power and might. We are saved by his hand; his hand assures the victory; he does things by his own hand and no other — and if not his hand, then his arm. The arm of the Lord has gotten the victory. The trouble is, all this smashing and grabbing that the hand of the Lord appears to be doing is rather at odds with the hand of the Lord we see at work in the gospels. Jesus is always stretching out his hand to sinners and touching them. There is a gentleness there that corresponds to the beauty of the imagery of our being graven on the palms of his hand (Isaiah 49) and of the Advent season itself. We await a Saviour who has already come. We know what he is like. We know his gentleness and his strength — we have nothing to fear at his hands, nothing at all.

Advent reminds us that the coming of God may be attended with trumpet blasts and manifestations of power, but it may also be attended by something as fragile as a baby’s breathing. The important thing to remember is that he always comes as Saviour. Our business as the world goes on is to stay alert and await God’s coming, as and when he wills.

(In case you didn’t realise, the last three blog posts were written before our Silence Days and scheduled to appear at daily intervals; likewise the daily prayer tweet. The wonders of technology!)Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail