Isaiah & Advent
We often hear from the prophet Isaiah in the season of Advent, the time of preparation for the celebration of Christmas. When we think of Isaiah, we often think of the images of the Emmanuel prophecies in Isaiah 7 and 9, and also the four Servant Songs of Isaiah 42,49, 50 and 52-53. Emmanuel means “God with us”, and Isaiah 7 and 9 point us to the Incarnation, when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” in the person of Jesus (John 1:14). “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Emmanuel…(Is 7:14). In the Servant Songs, it is written, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” Christ’s birth and crucifixion are lucidly foretold on the pages of Isaiah, but these prophecies also forthtell messages that God has for his people in Isaiah’s day.
Isaiah was a prophet in the southern kingdom of Judah, and the king and the people were facing numerous threats to their livelihood and peaceful existence.
First, the northern kingdom of Israel formed an alliance with Syria and came to attack Jerusalem, however Judah’s King Ahaz called to the king of Assyria for help. Assyria came and saved Jerusalem from destruction, but at great cost, for King Ahaz allowed for the bringing in of Assyrian worship in the temple (You can read about this in 2 Kings 16.).
Second, in the days of King Hezekiah, the Assyrian Empire, who had “rescued” Jerusalem years before in the days of King Ahaz, had become the greatest threat to the land and people of Judah. Hezekiah had rebelled against the king of Assyria and trusted in the Lord, however, he was considering looking to Egypt for help against the threat of Assyria and King Sennacherib as they took all the land of Judah except for Jerusalem. Yet in the story of King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18-20 we find that he did trust in the Lord to save his people, and the Lord did so (Hezekiah’s prayer is 2 Kings 19:14-19 and the staving of of attack is 2 Kings 19:32-37).
As Isaiah advised the kings of Judah and the people of God in his day, he had a simple message: Trust God. In the midst of threat, Ahaz trusted in worldly power to lingering consequence. Hezekiah trusted in the Lord, and the land and people of Jerusalem were delivered from threat.
To Ahaz, the message is that God’s presence and power comes through purity and vulnerability (the virgin will conceive and bear a son). God allows his people to learn the consequences of failing to trust in him, for as Israel and Syria were a threat, the true threat to the people of Judah was faithlessness and idolatry, which came to Jerusalem because of their misplaced trust in Assyria. The people of Judah were a small kingdom, yet God’s power would come to help his people against the greatest of threats as long as they put their trust in him alone. Again, the message of Isaiah: Trust God.
The very interesting thing about Isaiah’s book is that it begins and ends with a picture of the end result: a picture of new creation. He describes a world where righteousness and justice have been accomplished and will ever-abound. In other words, a world that trusts God, and a people that walks in the light of the LORD. In the final words of his book it is written, “For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the LORD, so shall your offspring and your name remain. From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD.” It is written in Isaiah 2, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”
In the midst of political and spiritual threats, Isaiah has a vision of the new world that God will make to include the very people who pose a threat to his people, for all will come and worship; all the nations shall flow to the mountain of the LORD desiring to learn his ways and walk in his paths. If God desires for those who now oppose him and his people to one day become his people, then his people ought to walk in the light of the LORD today, for his people are a reflection of divine character, and when living in faithfulness, reveal the loving ways of God to the world.
We all face threats in our lives, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, which have the potential to lure us to trust in some thing or things other than God for our fulfillment. Isaiah challenged the kings and the people of his day, and he challenges us to trust God in our own day. Nothing other than God can bring true fulfillment in life because true fulfillment is being united to the divine life of God which is found in Jesus. When we trust God we become a reflection of his love for the world and of his new creation, and it is for this coming Kingdom of God that the Word came into this world and became flesh and dwelt among us; it is for this coming Kingdom of God that Jesus embraced the cross, suffering and dying for our sins; and this coming Kingdom of God is the kingdom where Jesus our Risen Savior will reign as the righteous king. As we begin this season of Advent, and as await this coming kingdom, let us walk in the light of the LORD, trusting God alone.