Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Holy, holy, holy

This week my Thursday evening study group will complete a short Advent series using the 5 O’s of the great Advent hymn O come, O come Emmanuel. As you might expect as well as the study there will need to be food shared on this final meeting before the New Year.( being in Yorkshire this is sure to include Christmas cake and Wensleydale cheese).
This ancient Advent hymn is well known with its Old Testament words about the Messiah and the haunting tune to which it is sung. It certainly has gone round and round in my mind over the past few weeks.
The description of Jesus as the ‘rod of Jesse’ took us to one of the great Advent readings - Isaiah 11 - ‘a shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse and branch shall grow out of its roots’. Following on from this statement is the poetic description of the promised One.

The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -
and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

In his book ‘The way of Jesus’ Eugene Peterson draws this reading together with chapter 6 of Isaiah. He suggests that preachers tend to concentrate on the beginning of Isaiah 6 which describes the awesome experience of the prophet in the Temple as he responds to the call of God. On hearing the call the prophet boldly reacts, ‘Here I am; send me.’
Peterson complains that by not continuing to read the rest of the chapter we neglect the word which immediately comes to Isaiah and which sets out the unenviable task facing him. Peterson suggests that we need to reflect on the whole description of the call of the prophet which includes the worrying word that he receives as part of his call. This word indicates that his own people will not listen to him and even worse is to come because he is about to see his nation destroyed. The Assyrians will march through the land and the barren image given is that of a forest that has been cut down and all that is left is the tree stumps. But the final word is that ‘the holy seed is its stump’. All is not lost.

As Peterson reflects on this he comments:

“Isaiah provides an abundance of metaphor and vision so that we are able to recognise the way of The Holy in unlikely circumstances, wilderness circumstances, among neighbours who are deaf and dumb and heartless. The Holy, God’s unmanageable but irrepressible life is ever present and hidden within and around us. Unpredictably but most surely it breaks forth into our awareness from time to time. The bush blazes, the heavens open, the temple rocks, the stump puts forth a green shoot. Holy, Holy, Holy.”

The same Holy, Holy, Holy that filled the Temple is a holy seed in a field of stumps and a holy child in a borrowed manger and………..

I leave the final ‘and…………’ for us to reflect on our own experience of those unexpected and holy moments.

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