City of God

Icon of the Theotokos

Thursday of the First Week of Advent

Isaiah 26:1-6; Matthew 7:21, 24-27

On that day they will sing this song in the land of Judah: 
“A strong city have we; 
he sets up walls and ramparts to protect us. 
Open up the gates 
to let in a nation that is just, 
one that keeps faith. 
A nation of firm purpose you keep in peace; 
in peace, for its trust in you.”

Isaiah 26:1-3

Jubilation and hope ring out in these words of Isaiah following apocalyptic bleakness in the foregoing oracle:

In the city nothing remains but desolation, 
gates battered into ruins.

Isaiah 24:12

Flipped upside-down and shattered into shards, the world groans and languishes in consequence of its own transgressions against the “ancient covenant,” an allusion to the cosmic pact between Noah and God (Isaiah 24:5; Genesis 9:8-17). 

All joy and mirth, symbolized by wine, are spilt into sorrow: 

The new wine mourns, the vine languishes, 
all the merry-hearted groan.

Isaiah 24:7

The bedrock of the cosmic temple, house, and city collapse: 

For the windows on high are open
and the foundations of the earth shake. 
The earth will burst asunder, 
the earth will be shaken apart, 
the earth will be convulsed.

Isaiah 24:18c-19

When reason and order, spirit and body coil out of harmony with the divine, chaos and madness ensue: 

The earth will reel like a drunkard, 
sway like a hut; 
Its rebellion will weigh it down; 
it will fall, never to rise again.

Isaiah 24:20

The totality of the forces of evil, visible and invisible, will be held accountable: 

On that day the Lord will punish 
the host of the heavens in the heavens, 
and the kings of the earth on the earth.

Isaiah 24:21

The prophet breaks into praise as he sets his eyes on Mount Zion rising above the rubble and heap of the ruined city (Isaiah 24:23-25:1-2):

O Lord, you are my God, 
I extol you, I praise your name.

Isaiah 25:1

Christ is the mountain and city restored, according to patristic tradition. Every human person is an image of the city in need of restoration and transformation. 

The fifth century Father, Aponius, writes, “For although the Word of God clothed himself with the nature of every human person for the liberation of the human race, it is nevertheless true that anyone becomes the wall or the gate of the prophesied city, that is of Christ, who, bearing God’s image and holding fast to the true faith, merits with his holy works to contain the Word himself, as he promised through the prophet: ‘I will dwell within them, and I will be their God.’”1

Every person is a potential city of God and tabernacle of Christ, the Son of the Most High. Like the wise man who built his house on rock (Matthew 7:24), we become a citadel of divine grace by turning away from self in abandonment to the immovable Rock of our salvation (Psalm 48:4). 

Trust in the Lord forever! 
For the Lord is an eternal Rock. 
He humbles those in high places, 
and the lofty city he brings down; 
He tumbles it to the ground, 
levels it with the dust. 
It is trampled underfoot by the needy, 
by the footsteps of the poor.

Isaiah 26:4-6

The Magnificat of Isaiah is fulfilled in the Magnificat of the first Christ-bearer, the Blessed Virgin Mary:

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, 
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. 
From this day all generations will call me blessed: 
the Almighty has done great things for me, 
and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation. 
He has shown the strength of his arm, 
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, 
and has lifted up the lowly. 
He has filled the hungry with good things, 
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy, 
the promise he made to our fathers, 
to Abraham and his children forever.

Luke 1:46-55

As Advent unfolds, Mary’s titles in the Litany of Loreto crystallize:

Mystical rose,
Tower of David,
Tower of ivory,
House of gold,
Ark of the covenant,
Gate of heaven,

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

-GMC

1 Aponius, Exposition of the Song of Songs 12.32, referencing Exodus 29:34 and 2 Corinthians 6:16. From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Isaiah 1-39, Steven A. McKinion, editor, and Thomas C. Oden, general editor, Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 2004, p. 170.

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