Ev’ry valley shall be exalted,
and ev’ry mountain and hill made low;
the crooked straight and the rough places plain.
– Isaiah 40:4
Prophecy: In biblical terms a means of God’s communication with people; a divinely inspired prediction of the future. Often challenging, unsettling and subversive, (I wouldn’t want to bump into your old-style prophet during church coffee hour!) yet holding out hope for dark times. In this section of Handel’s Oratorio Messiah , we hear Isaiah’s prophecy of salvation.
Christianity is by its very nature subversive. Or should be! In Bending the Steeples: a Political Reading of Christmas radical theologian Pete Rollins speaks of the prophetic challenge to God to be here on earth amongst the suffering and the oppressed:
The message of Christmas is that church steeples should not be pointing to the heavens as if the sacred is living in some sky castle but they should be bent towards the earth. We shall find the sacred in the depth and density of life as we give ourselves to the work of love.
I’ve lost my copy of artist Beate Heinen’s O Heiland, Reisse die Himmel Auf (O that You would rend the heavens and come down! – Isaiah 64:1), sadly. Sadly, as to my mind, the images there dovetail beautifully with Pete’s (and Isaiah’s!) message: both capturing the urgency of the prophet’s plea as we approach Christmas trying to live as best we can in the space between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet.’ It’s part of the need to lean into the darkness that I mentioned on Day Four and perhaps, just perhaps, both the challenge and the picture are speaking into where I am this Advent.
What does the challenge of Advent and the message of Christmas mean to you? Are there any images which speak into your situation at the moment as we journey on towards Christmas?