Today we begin the season of Advent, a time of preparation for the celebration of Christmas. Some of the most beloved Scripture readings during this season are taken from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah. As a matter of fact, most readings from the Hebrew Scriptures that are proclaimed during Advent are taken from this book because we believe that many of the prophesies by Isaiah have become true with the birth of Jesus.
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, not unlike the other Biblical books, is quite complex when it comes to authorship. There are three principal sections: Chapters 1-39 are mostly attributed to the prophet Isaiah and pertain to Judah in the 8th century BC; Chapters 40-55 are attributed to an anonymous poet who prophesied toward the end of the Babylonian exile in the 6th century BC; while chapters 56-66 contain oracles attributed to different writers who wrote during the time after the return from the Babylonian exile.
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah in its three segments is filled with prophesies of impending disaster, doom and gloom written at times marked by war and civil unrest, violence and injustice, and a great divide between the rich and the poor. Yet, there are also beautiful moments when Isaiah predicts times of peace and happiness promised by a merciful God.
In chapter 2, for instance Isaiah describes a time when the world will be at peace, when the people “shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4).
In chapter 7 Isaiah writes that God will give the people the unmistakable sign of a” young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son” who she will name Emmanuel, which means God-with-us. (Isaiah 7:14) And of this child, Isaiah writes that he will be called “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” And that his dominion will be “vast and forever peaceful.” (Isaiah 9:5-6a).
Our times are marked by war and civil unrest, violence and injustice, and a great divide between the rich and the poor, just like in Isaiah’s time. That is why his words are so important and much needed today.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus is the sign Isaiah wrote about. He is Emmanuel, God-with-us. He is our “Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.” But contrary to the ways of the world, his reign was not brought about by wealth, power and violence. His reign was brought about by mercy, humility, kindness, sacrifice epitomized by his birth as a child in a manger and his sacrifice on the cross.
If only we could learn from Jesus the power of humility, vulnerability and mercy our world would be very different and we would indeed “beat our swords into plowshares, and spears into pruninghooks.”
During this season of Advent and Christmas, let’s gaze upon the Christ-child and pray fervently for an end to all wars and violence and for the completion of the prophesy of Isaiah when the whole world will be at peace.
Johan van Parys
Managing Director of Ministries
Director of Liturgy and Sacred Arts