Isaiah’s Advent message. Isaiah is the prophet who guides our journey through Advent as we prepare for Christmas. Advent is a season of joyful anticipation, and Isaiah invites us to look forward to the coming of the Messiah, to prepare the way of the Lord. Advent is a liturgical season with a strong penitential tone, and Isaiah urges us to straighten out our crooked ways, tear down our mountains of misdeeds, and fill in the valleys of our bad habits. It is a time to turn away from sin and receive forgiveness. Advent is also about the arrival of the reign of God, a kingdom of justice and peace, and Isaiah urges us to obey the Lord’s instruction, walk in the ways of peace, follow the promptings of the Spirit, and be just in thought, word and deed. Advent is a time to be filled with hope, rejoice in glad tidings and welcome the Messiah.
Messianic expectation. The prophet Isaiah eagerly looked forward to the day when the Messiah would come. He, along with all of Israel, was keenly aware of the promise that God made to Moses: “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command him” (Deuteronomy 18:18); a promise also made to King David: “I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Samuel 7:12b,14).
The Immanuel prophecies. The three Immanuel prophecies are unique to the prophet Isaiah and are found in his Messianic Oracle, chapters 6 to 12. These cherished texts stand at the forefront of the Advent season because they anticipate the coming of Immanuel, God with us, and the arrival of the ideal king, the one who would decisively change the course of history, rule with justice and bring peace. The first prophecy describes the birth of Immanuel: “The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The second prophecy describes his dominion: “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us; upon his shoulder dominion rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever, Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful” (Isaiah 9:5-6a). The third prophecy describes the justice of his rule: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him. He shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land’s afflicted. Justice shall be the band around his waist” (Isaiah 11:1,2a,4a,5a).
The Advent prophet. Isaiah is the prophet of Advent, and excerpts from his book are the most-used texts for the first readings of the Masses leading up to Christmas.
Advent Sundays. In the three-year Lectionary cycle, there is a total of 12 Advent Sundays, and readings from the prophet Isaiah are proclaimed the most often, seven times, all four Sundays in Year A and the first three Sundays of Year B. In Year C, the first readings are taken from four different Old Testament prophets: Jeremiah, Baruch, Zephaniah and Micah. Isaiah’s voice rings out over all the others as the prophet of Advent.
Advent weekdays. Isaiah is also the most-quoted prophet on Advent weekdays. Of the 17 daily Masses over the first three weeks, passages from Isaiah are proclaimed 14 times: six times the first week, five the second, and three the third. In the eight-day octave immediately prior to Christmas, Dec. 17-24, Isaiah is quoted only once, on Dec. 20, while the other first readings are chosen from a variety of sources.
The Liturgy of the Hours. The selection of readings in the Breviary makes an emphatic statement regarding Isaiah’s importance. Every Scripture text for the Office of Readings for every day of Advent is taken from Isaiah. Moreover, many of the readings for morning prayer, daytime prayer, midday prayer and midafternoon prayer, as well as a number of the responsories, are taken from Isaiah.
The manger scene. The ox and donkey that are present near the manger in many Nativity sets are included because of a verse in Isaiah: “The ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger” (Isaiah 1:3a).
Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.