Posted: 07 December 2014

Advent: From desolation to hope

As Sarah Brush writes, David Hockney’s painting Garroby Hill serves as a timely reminder of the winding road to Christmas, through desolation to hope.  

Sermon on holy canvases

Its purple winding road seems a fitting image for us on our Advent journey towards Christmas.

The prophet calls for the straight way to be prepared for the Lord. In Garrowby Hill, we can see the rolling hill which the herald is called to ascend and its winding road contrasts with the square fields of the valley, full of distant fading flowers and withering grasses where the shepherd cares for and leads his flock. Hockney saw this collection of images as having some sense of deeper meaning, saying ‘We have begun a sermon on holy canvasses’.

Despite saying that hills shall be levelled, Isaiah calls on the people of God to rise up to higher ground: ‘Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good tidings’. He is urging the people to take in a broader view, to see ‘the bigger picture’.

As Hockney put it: ‘Pictures also make us see things that we might not otherwise see’. From higher ground in Hockney’s image, we see that although the fields in the valley are made up of straight lines, they are less harmonious than the flowing line of the winding road. The most direct path is not necessarily the best. Hockney’s image reflects for me Bonhoeffer’s ‘crooked yet straight path’, which many of us tread in our life together.

Spiritual journey towards Christmas

As Christmas approaches, some look forward to time with family and friends, a fulfilling and restorative time; for others it is a time of compromise and conflict. Navigating the complexities of who to see over the Christmas period is not always simple - a weaving, winding road rather than a straight one. In our spiritual journey towards Christmas we can also find ourselves on such a road.

We may hope to focus on what Christmas is all about but we cannot always escape those many pre-Christmas duties of shopping, wrapping, parties and carolling. Amidst all that busyness, we need to draw ourselves back to the path towards the heart of Christmas, to that promise of Isaiah when ‘the glory of the Lord shall be revealed’, in Immanuel. In doing so, perhaps we are addressing to God the words of McCartney’s song, ‘The Long and winding road that leads back to you’. Whatever distracts you from the real meaning of Christmas this year, in all the twists and turns of the pre-Christmas rush, pray that your road may wind towards the God present with us.

A God who comes in might and yet whose actions are not those of a warrior but whose mighty arm instead is used to gather his lambs and carry them in his bosom; a God who in coming to earth comes not in power and majesty but in simplicity and humility, to a lowly birth in Bethlehem.

By Sarah Brush - Guest bloggers

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