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Godzdogz

The blog of the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford.

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Advent Mountains

Wednesday, December 05, 2012
Isa 25:6-10a, Ps 23, Mt 15:29-37.

Mountains feature prominently in today’s reading from Isaiah, as they also did on Monday (Isa 2:1-5). The action of the Gospel is also recorded as taking place on a mountain (Mt 15:29). I will offer some reflections on the significance of mountains in the thought of the Biblical world that might help make sense of the readings, and of the relevance of such imagery to Advent.

Mountains were often seen as places of security: cities were built upon them for defensive reasons (most notably Jerusalem, with particular focus on Mt Zion). People sought escape from their enemies on uninhabited mountains. Because of their elevation, in many religions they were seen as the meeting place of heaven and earth, and as such a privileged place of divine encounter (Mt Sinai, Mt Carmel, Mt Zion etc, but other religions had special ‘divine’ mountains too).

Certainly God made and sustains creation, including the mountains, and the mountains reflect his stability and endurance and strength. And they were a place of refuge and of divine encounter. As such God’s mountain is higher and better than all the other mountains! But a critique is at work too, and offered to the reader. It is not the mountains that make you safe and in which you are to place your trust: rather it is God who is much more elevated in being, more transcendent, than the mountains (Ps 121). One can have a certain confidence in encountering God on his holy mountain(s), but one should not treat God as merely familiar, or consider that God has to or will bow to our standards or control just because we know where God’s mountain is and we have some access to it. Rather God’s visitation of his people includes judgement in truth and power, if also a vindication of his living reality and of his promises to his people and thus or rich provision for them in covenantal love, teaching, and magnificently rich blessing (Isa 25). This critique embraces a sense of divine immanence, divine transcendence and the visitation of God that brings both into paradoxical proximity. Thus God’s immanence in creation means the mountains are a powerful sign of God and bring us close to God’s presence, but they also point beyond themselves to the transcendent God. Likewise, they concretely ‘locate’ the privileged encounter with God in covenant that God has called humanity to enter, and but also point to the final and full divine judgement and vindication, which will come from on high.

The mountain imagery of the Old Testament is fulfilled in the new. Many incidents, including today’s gospel, take place on mountains. But in a more profound way, Jesus is the mountain of the Lord: in him God is present, fully immanent, yet he points, like them, beyond his flesh to his origins in the full transcendence of the Trinity. In him God visits his people, making covenant. In him we meet God yet, we know and look to a fuller visitation to come: his Parousia at the end of time.

All this makes mountains a good image for Advent: we recall God’s visitation to us in the gift of Jesus; we seek to be instructed and fed more by God as we ascend the mountain of holiness by progress in sanctification; we grow in hope of that final mountain top visitation which is the return of Christ in full Glory. Hopefully he will judge us worthy to dwell on his mountain, that is, with him, forever.

Andrew Brookes OP

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