During this Advent season, the Book of the Prophet Isaiah plays a prominent role. Isaiah, much like John the Baptist, symbolizes Advent and the coming of Emmanuel, of Messiah. In today’s reading of Isaiah 35, the prophet calls us to prepare for the coming of a loving God who will transform our wilderness into a world that sings with joyful hope and anticipation.
Isaiah’s prophecy was first a song of deliverance for the people of Israel. The Babylonians had laid seige to Jerusalem in 586 BCE. They chained the leaders, the affluent, the professional class of the Hebrews and dragged them off into captivity in Babylon. Those left behind were the weak and poor. Captive Israel began to lose hope of ever returning home.
But Isaiah urged his people to continue hoping. He shared with them his vision where all nature will soon sing the glory of God, as the Lord comes to restore his people and lead them across a wilderness into the joy of his salvation. Indeed, their journey will echo the exodus of their ancestors who walked 40 years through the wilderness before reaching their promised land. The future for the Babylonian captives is imagined as a new exodus, of God’s people coming home.
During this Advent season, Isaiah calls us to reflect not only on the coming of Messiah, but also on our coming home. God in Christ came to us more than 2,000 years ago. We prepare to celebrate his first coming. But during Advent, we also are called to prepare for the return of Messiah, when we in this wilderness will be made whole and joyful, when the whole cosmos will sing in joyful expectation.
In the meantime, like those in lonely Babylonian exile, we will sing Advent’s anthem of hope — “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.” We wait in joyful anticipation with them, singing “Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.