In today’s first reading, the Prophet Isaiah is speaking to the people of Israel in the 8th century before Christ. In earlier verses, he has reminded them of their responsibilities as the qahal Yahweh, the people of God – their duties to the poor, the orphaned, the widows, and the strangers among them. In the verses that come immediately before our reading, Isaiah is quite clear that their enemies, the Assyrians, will be the means by which they are punished unless they repent of their ways and soften their hearts.
But even among the admonishments and warnings, Isaiah offers a vision of the Lord’s justice to himself – He will have people unto Himself, a faithful remnant: “On that day, The branch of the LORD will be luster and glory, and the fruit of the earth will be honor and splendor for the survivors of Israel.” (Is 4:2)
The “branch of the Lord” refers to whatever God causes to grow; it is synonymous with “the fruit of the earth.” These are the same words used referring to the Messiah in Jer 23:5; Zech 3:8; 6:12.
The signs of God’s presence — the smoking cloud by day and the flaming fire by night — recall the Exodus tradition, and echoes God’s saving presence. Yet this faithful remnant comes about only because Jerusalem must be purged if it is to be holy, but the purge is the path to salvation, but is not the agent of salvation.
Why is this an Advent reading? Advent is that time to be alert, on watch. The people of Jerusalem in Isaiah’s time were not. They forgot or ignored their responsibilities. They forgot the One who was the means of their deliverance, the One who brought them out of Egypt. Isaiah was sent to remind them and put them on the path to holiness.The people of that time were not alert, not prepared when the Assyrians came.
But what about us? This is the gift of Advent. It is a time to be reminded, to prepare, to take action and to intentionally, mindfully walk the path of Advent – the path that leads to the One who is Emmanual, God with us, the agent of our salvation. It is a time to remember we are a branch of the Lord, asked to bear fruit to the greater glory of God.
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