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Introduction to the Old Testament in Advent A

The Old Testament readings for Advent in Year A are all from Isaiah: Isaiah 2:1-5; 11:1-10; 35:1-10; and 7:10-16. Moreover, they are all taken from the section of Isaiah commonly known as First Isaiah, chapters 1-39, although only Isaiah 7 is likely to have some historical connection to the eighth century prophet from Jerusalem after whom the book is named. The other three passages are generally seen, with a possible exception in the case of Isaiah 11, as coming from much later in Israelís history. They have been inserted into the earlier section of the book when it has been brought to something like its final shape by later editors.

Several factors have influenced the selection of these texts for Advent. At the more general level is the fact that the book of Isaiah itself has been throughout Christian history a major interpretive tool in the story of and beliefs about Jesus. Isaiah has long been referred to as ĎThe Fifth Gospelí. A major element in this has been the traditional Christian association of certain Isaiah texts with messianism (Isaiah 11) or with the birth of Jesus (Isaiah 7). Some of the texts also fit the themes of the various Sundays within Advent, especially Isaiah 2 for Advent 1 with its theme of looking forward to the end of time and the whole world sharing in the peace of Godís reign. Isaiah 7 with its reference to a child to be born fits well on Advent 4 with its focus on Mary and the impending birth of Jesus. The four Isaiah passages are also ones which emphasise heavily the theme of hope, thus reinforcing that theme of Advent.

While the themes of Advent dictate to some extent the passages chosen from Isaiah, the latter, in turn, also challenge any narrow perception of Advent as a time of celebration of an impending birth. Isaiah 2 reminds us that our Christmas celebration is a time that participates in a greater event to come beyond our experience of time, the fulfilment of Godís reign. Indeed, Christmas is a celebration of that Ďfuture timeí present in our own time and history. It is also an event which sees all the nations joining in such celebration. It is not just a time of joy for those who follow Jesus overtly.

Both Isaiah 11 and 35 link our anticipation of Christmas, our Advent of preparation and hope, with the natural world. We are reminded that it is not just those who follow Jesus who will celebrate his presence among us. This will be a transformative event for all creation Ė human and natural. In Isaiah 11 and the psalm associated with it, Psalm 72, the linkage between the fertility and fruitfulness of the earth and political leadership is strong. Our hope in the coming of Godís Son has both political and ecological ramifications.

Isaiah 7, set for Advent 4, also brings new aspects to Advent. The connection between Godís judgment and our hope is underlined. Godís promise of new life is intricately linked to Godís judgment on all that threatens or counters that promise, be it in our individual lives or within community or the world. And finally, Isaiah 7 also reminds us that waiting for the fulfilment of Godís promise to be with us, does not negate the element of surprise. So often in our preparations for Christmas we become so taken up by planning and preparations and the playing out of community and family traditions, that we lose any sense of surprise associated with God with us. Isaiah 7 and Psalm 80 both seek to call us back from the deadening aspect of expectation, reminding us that waiting also has an element of surprise to it.

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