Dr Di Rayson captures our collective weariness and longing as we begin our Advent journey in 2020.
On the tenth day of Advent, 2020, Father Chris Bedding admits his conflicted relationship with parties.
Joy for all or just a few?
In that day the Branch of the Lord will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land will be the pride and glory of the survivors in Israel. Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem. The Lord will wash away the filth of the women of Zion; he will cleanse the bloodstains from Jerusalem by a spirit of judgment and a spirit of fire. Then the Lord will create over all of Mount Zion and over those who assemble there a cloud of smoke by day and a glow of flaming fire by night; over everything the glory will be a canopy. It will be a shelter and shade from the heat of the day, and a refuge and hiding place from the storm and rain.
I sometimes wonder why we spend hours getting ready for a party. Arranging tablecloths and decorations, laying out the food so it looks pretty and hanging twinkle lights to create the atmosphere. By midnight, it will inevitably look like a bomb has exploded. The next morning, in the cold light of day, you’ll wonder how your friends could possibly make so much mess! Then comes the cleanup, which sometimes takes days. If you’re like me, you vow to never host a party ever again. But, as the months go by, you forget how much work was involved and you start to think about doing it again.
In the early chapters of Isaiah, when the prophet looks at the people of Jerusalem, he sees them partying hard. They are wearing jewellery and glamorous clothing. They smell of rich perfume and their hair is all tizzied up. But the high life comes at a cost. These A-listers have crushed God’s people and ground the faces of the poor. And the worst part? They don’t care. They don’t hide their sin, but proclaim it boldly.
This flashy lifestyle is like a backyard party where the gorging never stops and the mess never gets cleaned up. The poor are forced to supply the provisions and live in the squalor it creates, but they are never invited to the celebration. They labour on, weary and ignored, so that a favoured few can know a shallow joy.
Isaiah was witness to the dissolute culture of Jerusalem under ancient kings, but it is easy to imagine what he might say to me. While I acquire and consume, countless millions suffer to sustain the system that provides me with safety and comfort. As a person of relative wealth in a world of poverty, I am the subject of Isaiah’s ire, and so are many of you.
But it will not always be like this. Isaiah’s vision is of Mount Zion surmounted by a canopy which provides shade and shelter. A pavilion of refuge. A stronghold of safety. Inside this haven are those previously excluded. The filth has been washed away and they live off the fruit of the land. Jesus will come proclaiming the same vision, calling it the Kingdom of God. And he will be executed for this dangerous message.
In the new Kingdom we are invited to a party that never ends. But this party does not require the poor to suffer so that the privileged rich can flaunt their good fortune. At God’s party, the sustenance comes from God’s abundance and is shared with equity for all. The challenge for us is to abandon the party of glitzy decadence and join God’s party - nourished by God’s endless compassion, founded on God’s reconciling peace, and where every song is a song of justice.
Father Chris Bedding is an Anglican priest in the Perth hills. He is also a performing artist and activist for justice.