“Then will the LORD create, over the whole site of Mount Zion and over her place of assembly, a smoking cloud by day and a light of flaming fire by night. For over all, the LORD’s glory will be shelter and protection: shade from the parching heat of day, refuge and cover from storm and rain” (Isaiah 4:5-6).
Scripture scholars divide the Book of the Prophet Isaiah into three sections and even posit that each of them is written by a different prophet. The first thirty-nine chapters are identified as the work of a pre-exilic prophet, a man who brought the Word of God to bear upon the situation and condition of Israel before the Assyrian invasion with its resultant exile. The entire book reflects on the promise that God has made regarding the king of Israel; namely, that a member of David’s house will reign in Israel forever. Of course, with the Assyrian attack, the promise seems to have been empty.
Isaiah uses the image with which the Israelites would surely be familiar. As their ancestors had come forth from Egypt and slavery, God protected them as a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night. Here we hear the prophet promising that God will once again be Israel’s protection if the people return to their covenant relationship with God. He also explains the significance of these two images by reminding us that the cloud sheltered them from the searing heat of the day and warmed them when they were threatened by stormy weather.
As we pass these first few days of Advent, we find ourselves once again reflecting on the desire for a Messiah, someone to come and save us from ourselves. Our world is full of threats to our safety and well-being. In our own country, we have elected a man who has promised “to make America great again.” This is exactly what the people of Israel were seeking in their desire for the Messiah. Israel was a world power before the conquest of Assyria and the Babylonian captivity. They yearned to see their country return to its former glory. Isaiah also cites this desire in today’s reading: “On that day, the branch of the LORD will be beauty and glory, and the fruit of the land will be honor and splendor for the survivors of Israel. Everyone who remains in Zion, everyone left in Jerusalem will be called holy: everyone inscribed for life in Jerusalem” (Isaiah 4:2-3).
Like the children of Israel, we have to come to the realization that the only way to realize our desire is by returning to the service of the Lord, by returning to that covenant that we have made with God in His only-begotten Son, Jesus. As we prepare to celebrate his birth once again, let us not lose sight of true glory, true honor which is gained by adherence to the Lord’s commandments.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator