Some of my favorite Christmas memories are embedded in our family’s practice of Advent, simple traditions of decorating, baking, crafting, listening, and singing, all in preparation for a heartfelt celebration of Jesus’s birthday. The focal point was the daily reading around the dining room table, the carols always slightly off key, and the content straight from prophecies about a Rescuer, a Shoot from the stump of Jesse, a Shepherd, and a Lamb.
Handel’s Messiah sends me scurrying for my Bible to trace the full redemptive story-line with its seventeen direct quotes from Isaiah’s prophecy. Of the sixteen writing prophets of the Old Testament, Isaiah is my favorite. Eminently quotable, his words show up in the New Testament over 65 times and his use of metaphor jolts me to a stop with his poignant images that sing and dance around grace for a people running headlong into rebellion. Tradition holds that he was sawn in two under the reign of King Manasseh at the end of a faithful ministry under four of Israel’s downward spiraling kings.
I wonder what emotional release Isaiah experienced as he wrote this well-loved verse:
For to us a child is born,Isaiah 9:6
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
With every king more corrupt than the one before, Isaiah condemned the nation’s slippage into idolatry and empty ritual. He foretold the Babylonian captivity and watched while the unraveling progressed. Even so, he wrote about redemption and grace, about a Son who would take the government upon his own shoulder.
We don’t know how much of the big picture Isaiah held in his mind’s camera as he dribbled clues for us from the end of his prophetic pen. Given our own present-day struggle to rightly divide his prophetic foreshortening and to faithfully sort out the already from the not yet, I would imagine that God’s remarkable fulfillment of Isaiah’s words in the prophetic record through Incarnation, Crucifixion, Resurrection, and Ascension would have been mind-blowing to the prophet, even from heaven’s vantage point!
This year, I am taking on a reading project for Advent that has been in my heart for a number of years. I will be reading through the book of Isaiah in twenty-five days, starting on December 1 and finishing on Christmas Eve. I’ve borrowed the idea and the reading schedule from Tony Reinke who says,
Isaiah tells the boisterous story of international political upheaval–the stunning prequel to Bethlehem. Nothing will deepen your appreciation for the Incarnation, nothing will better help you enjoy Christ, and all that he is for you, if you understand the global setting that anticipated, and demanded, his birth. It’s been called the Fifth gospel for good reason because along with Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John it’s a book about the Messiah, not merely in his birth, but in the whole of his world.”
I am looking forward to Isaiah’s reminder that God is the sovereign center of the universe, that he is beyond explanation, but worthy of my worship–all of it.
Isaiah wrote about redemption and grace, about a Son who would take the government upon his own shoulder. Join me for a journey through Isaiah this Advent season.Tweet
I hope you’ll join me for this Advent journey through the book of Isaiah. Lord willing, I will be posting here on Wednesdays and Sundays until Christmas, sharing landmarks and insights from Isaiah’s writing that are just too good to keep to myself.
I look forward to hearing from you as well. Click here to download the reading schedule and join the journey through Isaiah!
Unto us he is born!
On the Third Thursday of every month, I send biblical encouragement and newsy insights to newsletter subscribers. Click here to subscribe and be sure to spread the word.
And as always, you can also subscribe to Living Our Days blog to get regular content delivered to your inbox twice a week. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.