Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ. Preparation, of course, is easier if we have someone to help us. So for my column during these four Sundays of Advent, I would like to reflect on four of the important figures in Scripture who feature prominently in our readings at this time of the year.
First of all, we focus on the prophet Isaiah. When we speak of Isaiah, we are really talking about three different prophets. In the eighth century BC, a prophet named Isaiah, son of Amoz, spoke of God’s judgment and the promise that God would send a Savior to the world. His message was so powerful that when another prophet spoke a similar message around two hundred years later, his teachings were simply added as an addendum to the book of Isaiah as chapters 40 through 55. This later prophet’s name is lost to history, so scholars simply call him Deutero-Isaiah, or “Second Isaiah.” Similarly, the end of the book tells of the teachings of a later prophet known as Trito- (“Third”) Isaiah, found in chapters 56-69. These prophets are similar enough that we simply say things like, “The prophet Isaiah said...” All three sections were written at times of trial, and they offer hope in God’s promises. In Advent especially, we see that promise of hope as a sign of waiting for the promises of Christ.
Isaiah’s prophecies can be a reminder that we celebrate Advent on two levels. Later in the season, when we turn our attention to the coming of Christmas, we will concentrate on such passages as Isaiah 7:14, “the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.” Yet in addition to specific prophecies that point to Christ, there is a general air of hope in Isaiah that describes the Kingdom of God. Isaiah promises a world so completely at peace that “the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,” along with other such images (Isaiah 11:6). Thinking of our struggles, Isaiah 28:18 says, “On that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book; and out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see.” In those passages, Isaiah’s promises seem like poetic hyperbole. Yet we read them in Advent as a reminder that we are also awaiting the Second Coming. When Christ returns, we will know the perfect joy of heaven, where there will be no suffering of any kind. Far from being a poetic exaggeration, the words of Isaiah will be barely sufficient to describe the reality.
Finally, Isaiah went beyond other writers of the Old Testament by promising that God would bring Salvation not just to the Jewish people but to the entire world. Isaiah 2:2-3, in today’s first reading, says, “In days to come, the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest mountain and raised above the hills. All nations shall stream toward it; 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.’” So as we begin this season of Advent, we see it as a time of hope, that God’s gift of salvation can come to us in ways far beyond anything we can now imagine.