In Advent, Isaiah calls for holiness by living justly and caring for poor

Published: December 18, 2004

By Sister Susan McCarthy, RDC

Hans Christian Andersen’s story, “The Emperor’s New Suit,” provides a wonderful example of how easy it is for us to be deceived by others and to deceive ourselves.

If not for the scrupulous honesty of a little child the emperor (and the entire village) would continue to believe that the emperor was wearing the finest suit of clothes when in truth, he “had nothing on at all!”

Each of us can be as easily deceived as the emperor in this story. Often, for reasons known and unknown, we close ourselves off to or deny the truth that seems so apparent to others. For those of us in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the prophets are those, who like the little boy in the story above, remind us of what is real and not real, of what is true and not true.

As we pray our way through another Advent season we use the Scriptures of these days to reflect on our lives in the light and promises of our Savior. We have the prophet Isaiah to help us in our reflection. He speaks the truth to us, often challenging us to be more than we are at this moment. We struggle, as people have throughout the centuries, with seeing and hearing the truth that is around us and then, accepting that truth.

Basic to Isaiah’s understanding of God was his belief in God’s holiness. Because Isaiah saw God as all holy, he desired the people in whom God resided to live in holiness as well. But this holiness was not to be one of saying numerous prayers or burning incense or offering sacrifices. For Isaiah, holiness consisted in living justly and caring for the poor.

Isaiah 2:1-5: In this passage for the First Sunday of Advent Isaiah invites all people to come together in a spirit of care and respect. Isaiah calls nations together, bidding them to lay down their arms and their plans for war. This passage challenges us to look at sin and division in our world where billions of dollars are spent on fighting wars while children go without food and medicine.

Isaiah 11:1-10: The reading for the Second Sunday provides that vision of a place where sworn enemies learn to live together. Isaiah awaits the day when “the Spirit of the Lord” shall rest upon us — first on Jesse, the father of David, then on Jesus and finally on each of us. Empowered by the Spirit, and like the Messiah, we are to bring justice to the poor and afflicted.

Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10: In the Scripture for the Third Sunday, Isaiah sees new life blooming in the desert where the eyes of the blind are open and the ears of the deaf are unsealed. We find ourselves in this Scripture when we recognize our own deserts and our need to blossom!

Isaiah 7:10-14: In this Fourth Sunday passage Isaiah assures Ahaz of God’s presence (the prophecy of the birth of Emmanuel, God-with-us) even while Ahaz displays a lack of faith in God’s presence. This reading invites us to be people of hope, trusting and believing that God’s presence is all around us.

During these Advent days, Isaiah invites us to grow into the holiness of God by living justly in our world and by caring for the poor. Have our eyes and ears been opened to this invitation?

Sister Susan McCarthy, RDC, is workshop and promotions coordinator with Little Rock Scripture Study.