Thursday of the First Week of Advent (December 4th, 2014)

The Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah is profoundly beautiful and also one of the lengthiest texts in the Bible.

The prophet’s vision spans hundreds of years of Israel’s history and foresees events that would come to fulfillment in the revelation of God in Christ.

Two historical events capture the prophet Isaiah’s attention- the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrian Empire in the year 721 BC and the Destruction of Kingdom of Judah by the Babylonian Empire in the year 587 BC. These two events brought the Kingdom of David to a devastating conclusion and compelled the Israelites to reconsider most of the assumptions they had about their identity and mission.

The prophet Isaiah insists that these two disastrous events were consequences for the refusal of the Israelites to submit themselves to the commandments of God. This refusal, which expressed itself in idolatry and selfishness, provoked terrible injustices that left the poor crying to heaven for help. The poor found little or no relief from their sufferings from the elites of Israelite culture, who insulated themselves from having to deal with great injustices with their affluence and political connections.

According to Isaiah, after repeated warnings through the prophets went unheeded, God finally had had enough, and allowed the false gods that the Israelites had come to worship- wealth, pleasure, power and honors to do what false gods do. These false gods delivered the Israelites into the hands of their enemies.

The Kingdom of David, which had proved incapable of fulfilling the mission that God intended, was brought to an end.

All this is what the prophet Isaiah is referring to this morning in the small excerpt you heard as today’s first scripture for Mass.

Other than being a history lesson, what does this particular scripture have to do with us? As I have mentioned before, the Church recalls the story of the Israelites from the past as a means of understanding the Church in the present.

The words of the prophet Isaiah are for us- his critique of a culture indifferent the sufferings of poor and given over to the worship of wealth, pleasure, power and honors should be humbly accepted as a critique of our own culture- and a warning to us- should we think that God in indifferent to the sufferings of those who call out to him for mercy. Is our culture making the same mistake the Israelites made and are we Christians complicit in these mistakes?

The same prophetic gift and vision that compelled the prophet Isaiah to speak God’s word of truth animates and enlivens the Church.

The Church is intended by Christ to be a sign of contradiction to culture and to offer in its unique way of life an alternative way. The culture looks to the Church for divine sanction for its desires, but the Church offers no sanction to any desires except the desire to know, love and serve Christ the Lord through right worship and works of mercy.

Christ the Lord has his own warning for us today- don’t think that keeping Christ at a distance, opting for the what it merely obligatory in terms of the Church, and paying lip service to our identity and mission as disciples will be enough- in fact claiming the name of Christian when we don’t really mean it is one of the most dangerous and destructive things that we can do, both to ourselves and to the Church.

Our religion is not a toy and the Church is not a game.

Calling Jesus the Lord has profound implications for who we are and how we live. To call Jesus the Lord is not to grant him an honorary title, but it indicates our relationship with him- that we believe that he is God and that our lives belong to him, not to ourselves.

A life that belongs to Christ is a life given over to his will and purposes.

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