"HAVE you given any thought to Advent yet?"
"With our Christmas Bazaar coming off next week, Lord! What with draw tickets, the bottle stall, the grocery stall, the darts, roll-a-penny, a cake for the UCM stall which I hope my wife will make, the posters to go out, the programmes to print, the door rota to arrange, parking to provide for, not to mention the parish debt to worry about, the only Advent arrival I've had time to think of is Fr Christmas, and getting a fifteen stone man into an eleven stone outfit."
"And you're doing all this on your own?"
"Well . . . not exactly, Lord. No, I couldn't say that. There's a lot of us helping Fr Michael."
"Then you have got a little time, as long as you're not filling it up with activities, and using them as an excuse."
"So, if you're not putting up a manly resistance, I'd like to suggest that you have a look at Isaiah."
"He's very much the Prophet of Advent. And he had something important to say about making people welcome, which I imagine you want to do. His purpose was rather more serious than clearing the parish debt, but as everything you do in my name matters I don't think he'll resent my quoting him.
"Will you try to picture the desert, with the Israelites camped in their black goat-hair tents? They have to be well pegged down against sudden sandstorms, and there isn't a lot of room to spare.
"Someone looks to the north, and spots the little cloud of dust that foretells visitors. The calm of the family is broken. Read what Isaiah tells them to do next, in Chapter 52.
"Widen the space of your tent stretch out your hangings freely, lengthen your ropes; make your pegs firm; for you will burst out to right and to left."
"That may seem a long way from a Christmas bazaar in a busy town. But the underlying message is the same. Advent is a time of preparation for a welcome. And that involves willingness to put oneself out, without getting in a state of manic depression. I hope your afternoon will find the hall bursting out to right and left."
"Thank you Lord. So do I."
"And don't forget. You won't get far if you try to do it all on your own. If you're not too busy to spare the time, you might have a short meditation on what Isaiah must have felt when he finally met the Lady whose Motherhood he had prophesied. Heaven is full of delights like that."