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The Desert Flowers: The Gospel and Isaiah

We are in the season of Advent and the readings recently, as you may have noticed, are frequently taken from the Book of Isaiah. This is a tradition that goes back centuries to the early Church.

One might have thought that Book of Isaiah would have been associated with Easter, since it contains the so-called “Suffering Servant Songs,” with its verses about the “man of sorrows,” “acquainted with grief,” “despised and rejected by men,” who has “carried our sorrows.”

Pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.

And yet by the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the association of the Book of Isaiah with Advent and the Incarnation was simply taken for granted as commonplace among medieval theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure.

In many of these texts, we find a theme attested to by many of the ancient rabbis and prophets: God’s presence transforms the order of nature. He makes the dry ground fertile and the barren land bring forth new life. So, for example, we recently heard this passage from Isaiah 41:

When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them;
I, will open up rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the broad valleys;
I will turn the desert into a marshland,
and the dry ground into springs of water.
I will plant in the desert the cedar,
acacia, myrtle, and olive;
I will set in the wasteland the cypress,
together with the plane tree and the pine,
That all may see and know,
observe and understand,
That the hand of the LORD has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.

And several days previous, we enjoyed these two passages from Isaiah 35:

The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
They will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.

Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water;
The abode where jackals lurk
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus.

Note that in the passage from Isaiah 41, we are the ones who are called upon to “see” and “know,” “observe” and “understand” – rather tame English translations of what are especially powerful words in the original Hebrew, which suggests a “seeing” that we do not only with our eyes, but with our hearts, and the sort of “understanding” which provides a sure foundation.

Read more at The Catholic Thing. 

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