Friday of Week 2 of Advent – First Reading

Commentary on Isaiah 48:17-19

In a passage where Second Isaiah speaks of King Cyrus being chosen as God’s instrument to liberate his people from Babylon and enable them to return to their homeland, we have today’s short reading, a new prophecy inserted in the text. It is a reflection on what the destiny of Israel might have been if she had remained faithful to God’s calling. The sufferings of the Exile are seen by the writer as a punishment that Israel largely deserved.

If the Israelites had remained faithful, their prosperity “would have been like a river” and their integrity “like the waves of the sea” – symbols of free-flowing abundance. If they had remained faithful, they would have enjoyed the promises made long ago by Yahweh. Instead of being a dwindling remnant, “your children would have been numbered like the sand, your descendants as many as its grains”.

This is reminiscent of prophecies made to Abraham by Yahweh, such as:

I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth; so that if one can count the dust of the earth, your offspring can also be counted (Gen 13:16); I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore (Gen 22:17).

It is a promise that goes right through the Bible, especially in Deuteronomy and in the sayings of the prophets.

Listening to God is the theme running through both readings today. In the Gospel, we will see Jesus upbraiding the people for listening neither to John the Baptist, who preached a message of austerity, nor to Jesus, who brings a message of compassion and inclusiveness.

In our celebration of Christmas, let us look at ourselves and our response to the call of Jesus which we are hearing all during this Advent period. To ‘hear’ in the Gospel implies total acceptance and assimilation of what we hear and incorporating it in our daily lives.

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