Today’s reading: Isaiah 1-12, Psalm 78
Today we begin our time with the prophets. For the next three weeks, we will listen to the voices of these brave souls, called to speak boldly to the people of Israel about their behavior while also offering a word of hope from God. Our first companion is Isaiah, for many the most well-known of these figures. Of all the prophets, it is his words that later become most closely linked with the person of Jesus Christ.
You will likely encounter several passages that sound familiar in this regard. Perhaps the music of Handel’s Messiah will be ringing in your ears as you read Isaiah 9:6-7, the inspiration behind the beautiful “For Unto Us a Child Is Born.” In these first twelve chapters, there are four additional passages that are often included as Scripture readings in the season of Advent, the time each year when the church prepares again for the coming of Christ.
This opening movement in the book of Isaiah points toward a future and different reality. The present reality for the people of Israel is that they have been disobedient. They have practiced violence, abuse, greed, indifference, and idolatry. The prophet reveals how God is holding them accountable for these actions, while also raising hopes and expectations for a coming kingdom that will be quite different. Swords into plowshares. Spears into pruning hooks. Nations no longer practicing war, but coming together to God’s holy mountain for justice to be decided. The images are vivid and extraordinary, describing the kind of idyllic kingdom that could only be inaugurated by God. No wonder the church has come to interpret the message of Isaiah through the lens of Jesus the Messiah.