Each year as Advent begins I am drawn afresh to the writings of the prophet Isaiah. For the next few weeks I’ll revisit well known texts, hear again the poetry that stirs me and be prepared to be challenged by ancient words and images. As well as listening to Isaiah in the Liturgy of the Word at Mass, I’ll also be listening at Office of Readings. Inevitably the sequences of texts overlap and images become overlaid. The more familiar I become with the texts, the more easily I’m able to hold together the wealth of images.
The first reading for the First Sunday of Advent comes from the beginning of Isaiah. Here Isaiah presents his dream.
The Vision of Isaiah, son of Amoz, concerning Judah and Jerusalem .
In the days to come the mountain of the temple of the Lord shall tower above the mountains and be lifted higher than the hills. All the nations will stream to it, people without number will come to it; and they will say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the Temple of the God of Jacob that he may teach us his ways so that you may walk in his paths; since the Law will go out from Zion., and the oracle of the Lord from Jerusalem.” He will wield authority over the nations and adjudicate between many peoples; these will hammer their swords into ploughshares, their spears into sickles. Nation will not lift sword against nation, there will be no more training for war. O House of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.
Writing at a time of religious and political uncertainity, Isaiah’s stirring vision offers hope to the fickle hearts of the people Israel. It’s a dream to which Israel will need to hold fast when they are faced with Exile. The message is no less urgent today. What are your ‘swords’ and ‘ploughshares’? How can you live the dream?