FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
The meaning of this beautiful poetic prophecy of a world at peace under God needs no comment from me. But there is a textual puzzle. The verses that constitute our lesson appear almost word for word in the prophet Micah (4:1-4). Micah was a younger contemporary of First Isaiah, and they may have known each other. One of them may have borrowed from the other, but in neither prophet do the words fit well with what is said before and after. Some scholars think it was a poem known to the two editors of the two prophets, that both editors inserted it into the writings they were fixing up. If so, the authorship is a mystery.
I spoke above of “First Isaiah.” The Book of Isaiah has three parts. Chapters 1-39 were written by a court prophet of that name active from around 740 to 700 BCE. He was adviser to several kings and a major player in the story of King Hezekiah (see II Kings 18-20). A century and a half later, the Babylonians overran Jerusalem and Judah, enslaved an enormous population, and drove them northward into Mesopotamia. When Babylon fell to Persia, the Jews were allowed to return home. The “Exile” dates from around 550 to 500 BCE. “Second Isaiah” (Chaps. 40-55) was a young poet who grew up in Babylon and sings about the slavery, the granted freedom, and the return to the homeland. “Third Isaiah” (Chaps. 56-66) is not a person, but a collection of works about the return by various unidentified authors.
Paul writes to the Christians in Rome of his plans to visit. Here he prophesizes the second coming of Christ and urges them to “put on” Christ, to enter into the new life. Paul was a Greek speaking Jew born at Tarsus. Paul is his Greek name; Saul his Hebrew name. He was a Roman citizen by inheritance. Deeply religious, to the end of his life he always thought of himself as a Jew. He studied law in Jerusalem under the great Gamaliel and was trained as a Pharisee. He became a persecutor of the new “Nazarene” (Christian) sect and was present at the stoning of Saint Stephen. On the road to Damascus to arrest Christians there, Paul was struck blind in a violent conversion, during which he had a vision of Christ. Under the counsel of a wise Christian, his sight returned. He became a missionary under the direction of the newly formed Church at Jerusalem. The title of “apostle” was given to teachers who had learned what they taught from Jesus. Although Paul had never set eyes on Jesus, he insisted he was qualified as an apostle because he had seen Christ in his vision.
© Arthur H. Cash