One thing to appreciate in the Advent readings is the beautiful continuity between the Old and New Testaments. The Prophet Isaiah and the Gospel of Matthew are the principal Advent voices representing the Old Testament and the New. We can see continuity in their readings today, Wednesday of Advent’s first week.
God promises a feast of rich food and choice wines on his mountain, Isaiah says in our first reading. “God will wipe away the tears from all faces.” His hand, his power, rests on his holy mountain. His power is revealed there.
Jesus ascends the mountain in Matthew’s gospel, not only to teach as he does earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, but to “wipe away the tears from all faces.” “Great crowds came to him, having with them the lame, the blind, the deformed, the mute, and many others. They placed them at his feet, and he cured them.”
Then, having compassion on the crowd, Jesus provides them with a banquet from 7 loaves of bread and a few fish. This is not a ration to get them through the day till they get home. The miracle turns into a banquet, where there’s more than enough, there are leftovers. ( Matthew 15: 32-38 )
The mountain is a symbolic place for Isaiah, as it is for Matthew. All nations will stream toward that mountain, Isaiah announces in a key reading of Advent, which we hear as Advent begins and is repeated every Monday at morning prayer in the Liturgy of the Hours.
The promises Isaiah and Jesus make are magnificent promises, but they will be questioned and denied by powerful elements in their society. The rulers of the people, with the scribes and Pharisees reject Jesus.
Denial for Isaiah comes from Ahaz, King of Judea, who doesn’t accept the prophet’s mission or his magnificent dream of faith. He’s a realist, like many today, and Isaiah’s promises are unreal. He dismisses the prophet’s dream of the holy mountain, courteously it seems; he’s not going to run his country on religious dreams.
Ahaz is recalled every Wednesday in Advent in the reading for morning prayer and then later in Advent along with an important reading at Mass–the announcement to Mary that she will be the mother of Jesus Christ. He’s the voice of denial, found in our world and in us.
There is also an emphasis on the humanity of Christ in our Advent readings. It appears in the frequent references to the “root of Jesse” , father of David. The Jesse tree that traces Jesus back through his ancestors in Jewish history is a popular feature in Advent. It reminds us that Jesus is rooted in humanity. He is not an angelic messenger who quickly returns to the heavenly Kingdom. He does not live among us as a stranger from another world. “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
Matthew’s gospel emphasizes the rootedness of Jesus in our humanity as he begins his gospel with the genealogy of Jesus. We too easily dismiss the extent of our Lord’s incarnation.
The Advent readings are good reading, a wonderful catechism of faith.