In days to come… many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us climb the LORD’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” (Is 2:2-3)
As we begin a new Advent season we do so in the midst of our parish’s year-long reflection on grace. Advent itself is a season of grace, a liturgical urging to renew our life in God as shown clearly and distinctly by the quotation above from the Church’s very first reading in Advent.
The literal meaning of this passage concerning the Lord’s mountain is a prophecy that a Messianic-restored Temple in Jerusalem will serve as a destination of “many peoples” or nations which will stream there for instruction and salvation. Christians further see in this passage an anagogical meaning (i.e. how it relates to heaven) considering it to be a proclamation of the glory of the New Jerusalem still to come. However, for our present purpose as we begin Advent, we will focus on the quotation’s spiritual meaning: how does it relate to the life of grace?
The mountain climb itself is the life of grace which begins with Jesus Christ. In Psalm 24 the Lord’s mountain is called a “holy place” and the question is put to us, “who may go up the mountain of the Lord?” (Ps 24:3). The answer to this question is he who is “clean of hand and pure of heart” (Ps 24:4). Now we would be wrong if we thought that the answer to this question relates directly to us, for none of us (on our own) is clean and pure. The only one that can ascend the Lord’s mountain is Christ. He is the clean and pure one, and it is only through the Ascension of Jesus that a life of grace becomes possible (Jn 16:7). Jesus climbs the mount of God so he may draw us up with him through His gift of grace.
According to Isaiah, the Spirit of grace “instruct[s] us in His way” so that we may “walk in His paths”. Through grace, the Lord Jesus teaches us the virtues of faith, hope and love. However before we can enter into the tutelage of grace we must first admit that we have followed the wrong way: that we have walked on errant paths; that we have sinned. Without this realization and admission, especially in Confession, we will not be able to say with commitment, “Come let us climb!”
And so we return now to the literal sense of sacred scripture on this 1st Sunday in Advent by placing on our bulletin cover a painting by James Tissot entitled The Sermon on the Mount (1896 – courtesy Brooklyn Museum). Here we see Jesus standing on the Mount as many people come from a distance to hear and to follow His instructions (Mt 5:1ff).
This work of Tissot is listed by some as being in the style of Symbolism which would place it in the category of the Pre-Raphaelites and William Blake. However if the work is symbolic, it is also realistic, relating a reality originating in a true witness account. In Advent we recall the gospel testimony of Our Lord’s first revelation on earth, while faithfully awaiting His glorious finale.
-Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services