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The Second Sunday of Advent

Malachi 3.1–4
Philippians 1.3–11
Luke 3.1–6

I must have sung Handel’s Messiah dozens of times before I asked myself what its first chorus actually meant. ‘And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.’ It makes what the late Michael Flanders once called ‘a jolly pleasing noise’; but what is it about?

In Luke’s day, this passage from Isaiah had a well-established place within the wider Jewish longing for restoration. When Solomon built the Temple, ‘the glory of Yahweh filled the house’. The ‘glory’ departed when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple; but, even when the Temple was rebuilt, the glory did not come back. Post-exilic prophets like Malachi saw the return of Yahweh to Zion as still in the future: ‘the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple’. When that happened, the whole created order would, of course, roll out the red carpet. Valleys would be filled in, mountains flattened, and Yahweh would return in splendour to Jerusalem...

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