A letter from the Vicarage – Rev’d Andy Stand

The Bible readings to be used for marking St. Andrew’s day (30th November), each year include a passage from the book of the prophet Isaiah:

‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns”’ (Ch 52 v 7).

Reading that verse automatically brings to my mind the hymn, ‘How lovely on the mountains’ written by Leonard E. Smith Jnr., and its fairly catchy chorus which repeats a number of times the words, ‘Our God reigns’. It used to be a favourite hymn at my school Christian Union, and hearing that verse from Isaiah is enough for the tune to go round and round in my head for the next few days.

The ‘beauty’ of the sight of the messenger coming over the mountains relates of course not to any of his physical characteristics, but just that he has at last come into sight. This verse is believed to have been written during a period when Jerusalem had been laid waste and the most of the Israelites had been carried off into exile. The remnant may well have been continually watching and waiting, seeking news of friends and relations who had been taken. As the years went by such watching and waiting may well have been accompanied by an almost physical ache, one, which the people must have doubted, would ever be taken away. And now suddenly here comes a messenger, with the news that the people had been waiting for. The Israelites were returning to their homeland. The ruins of Jerusalem could now be rebuilt; the temple restored; and God could once more take up his place dwelling in the midst of his people.

The season of Advent marks a period of watching and waiting for us. We watch and wait to celebrate Christmas: when God did come and dwell once more amongst his people, not in the Temple in Jerusalem, but in a cattle shed in a nearby town called Bethlehem.

I dare say that any of you, that have children in your household, will be aware of the challenge that having to wait for Christmas can present. These days as a society we seem to be increasingly impatient and find ourselves saying, more and more ‘I can’t wait!’

The theologian Paula Gooder, in her book, The Meaning is in the Waiting, reminds us that at times waiting is essential and to not wait can be dangerous. Paula refers in particular to the waiting that accompanies pregnancy and while parents (and particularly the mother) may be impatient for the end of the nine months to be able to greet their new child, they will recognise that for the child to arrive any sooner could be dangerous for both mother and child. The parents then watch and wait.

I challenge you this Advent to try to watch and wait – to try to make some space in the busyness of preparing for Christmas, to prepare yourself spiritually to celebrate, the coming of Christ; and as we watch and we wait for Christmas Day to dawn, we watch and wait, too, for the fulfilment of God’s promises to renew the whole of His creation and establish His kingdom here on earth. As Christians we look forward to that time with great hope.

I wish you every blessing for a reflective and hope filled Advent, a Happy Christmas and an even greater Hope-filled New Year.

Revd. Andy Stand

St. Philip & St. James Parish Church Whittington, Worcs. WR5 2RQ