(Cycle B – Year 2000)



Advent is the liturgical season, which insists on hope and vigilance. It is also a metaphor for the Christian life as movement, as search and longing. The scriptural readings of this time invite us to contemplate all of the mystery of the coming of the Lord in history until its final consummation. The God of Advent is the God of history that has become fully present among men in Jesus of Nazareth, and in him offers to humanity the realization of its aspirations and most profound hopes. The season of Advent consists of four Sundays and is played out in two different stages, well defined: (a) from the first Sunday until December 16, the eschatological aspect of salvation is underlined, inviting us to revive our hope for the glorious coming of Christ; (b) from the 17th until the 24th of December, all of the liturgy is oriented more directly toward preparation for Christmas. In this time, the Church inspired by Israel, the great master of hope, revives her hope in the glorious day of Christ, while vigilant participates day after day in the transformation of history.

1. The book of the prophet Isaiah

From ancient times, an almost daily reading of the prophet Isaiah has been assigned to the season of Advent, whose most significant pages are proclaimed in these days, as permanent words of hope and comfort for all men and women. The book of Isaiah is one of the richest and most beautiful books of the all of the Bible on the literary and theological level. Besides, being the book of the Old Testament most cited in the New Testament, is one of the most known of prophetic literature. Nevertheless, this book, more than just one work only, is a collection of writings of diverse centuries and divers authors that experts have divided in three great parts: First Isaiah, that includes Is. 1-39 and originates securely from the prophet Isaiah that lived in the 8th century BC in Jerusalem; Second Isaiah corresponds to Is. 40-55 and was written for an anonymous prophet in the time of the exile, until the 7th century BC, and this is composed of Is. 56-66. In the season of Advent we will read texts from all three parts and it is important to know how to situate them in their historical moment. In continuation, we are going to make reference to the epoch of each one and to the texts of Advent most significant.

1.1 First Isaiah (Is. 1-39).

This first section of the book is attributed to the prophet Isaiah that lived in Jerusalem in the 8th century BC This was an epoch marked by military and political expansion of the great international powers that brought catastrophic consequences as much for the Northern Kingdom (Israel), that fell in the year 722 under the power of the Assyrian power, as for the Kingdom of the South (Judah), that suffered constantly military attacks and sieges and had to submit itself politically to Assyria in 701. For these reasons, it was an epoch of instability and fear. In the interior of the country grew the abuse of the high classes, producing scandalous social differences and injustices. Isaiah proclaimed the necessity and the importance of faith in a situation of much insecurity: for him faith in the Lord excludes all fear, and to the same king he assured the faithfulness of the Lord to maintaining the continuity of the Davidic dynasty in critical moments for the country (cf. Is. 7: 7-9; 30: 1-5; 31: 1-3); also he denounced as the contrary to the plan of the Holy of Israel (Is. 5: 12,19) corruption, exploitation of the poor and the hypocritical cult that looked to justify abuses (Is. 1: 10-20).

The texts that we read from First Isaiah in Advent have to be seen with Messianic hope and confidence in God (Is. 2: 1-5; 4: 2-6; 11: 1-10; 25: 6-10; 26: 1-6; 29: 17-24; 30: 19-21, 23-26). Isaiah invites us to dream and to hope. This is the function of Is. 2: 1-5 at the beginning of Advent (Monday of the 1st week): an impressive pilgrimage of all peoples toward the mountain of the Lord in Jerusalem, from where overflows teaching (torah) and the word of God (Is. 2:3), to let themselves be taught by him. The result is disarmament and universal peace now that all men and women have conducted their own plans by the ways of the Lord. Advent teaches us to hope and to prepare this dream of peace and fraternity in that God is the only “judge between the nations and arbitrator between many peoples” (Is. 2:4). But Isaiah isn't a superficial dreamer, he knows that so that dreams may be a reality, our compromise is needed. For this reason, he speaks of the necessity of a “purification”. The dream will be reality “when the Lord has washed away the filth of Zion's daughters and with the wind of judgement and the wind of burning cleansed Jerusalem of the blood shed in her” (Is. 4:4). It is consoling to know that God is in the midst of his people disposed to prepare them, to change them, on the condition that the people dispose themselves in a docile way with humble faith and confidence. The work of God reaches infinite horizons with the apparition of the Messiah that brings universal peace and justice for the poor (Is. 11: 1-10). At the end of history is described a splendid banquet, in which is celebrated the definitive triumph of life, because God has destroyed all that can make men and women cry and suffer (Is. 25:6-10). Isaiah will invite constantly to have confidence because God is always arriving to save the humble that abandon themselves to his love, “the nation that keeps faith! This is the plan decreed: you will guarantee peace, the peace entrusted to you” (Is. 26:3).

1.2 Second Isaiah (Is. 40-55)

This second part of the book is the work of an anonymous prophet that lived in the hardest and most tragic time of the history of the people of the Bible: in the epoch in which Israel was taken into exile in Babylonia, after losing its land, its monarchy, its Temple, its traditions, etc. Chapters 40-48 announce to the exiles the liberation from Babylonia's domination, while chapters 49-55 seem to be directed to the second group of those that return to the homeland and take up the reconstruction of Israel.

The text that we read from Second Isaiah in Advent have as a theme comfort and hope in the action of God that can create everything new (Is. 40: 1-11. 25-31; 41: 13-20; 48: 17-19). The oracle with which the book opens and that we will read the second Sunday of Advent (Is. 40: 1-11) is an invitation to contemplate and taste the goodness of the Lord: “Console my people, console them” (Is. 40: 1). All of us have necessity of comfort and we ought to believe that God arrives and that we can be consoled by his goodness. In biblical language, “to console” doesn't mean simply “to feel sorry for”, but changes a situation of sorry and death into another situation of hope and life. The people are still in exile and the prophet invites them to believe in the God that has pardoned their guilt (Is. 40: 2) and that comes to save them: “here is the Lord Yahweh coming with power” (Is. 40: 10). Only it is necessary to prepare a way so that God may arrive (Is. 40: 3) and so that the people may return to their land, carried lovingly by God and delicately led to their land (Is. 40:11). The return to Jerusalem will be made in the desert, but now as a triumphal way that does not know twisted paths nor dangerous routes, since it is the Lord that is shepherd and goes ahead guiding his people, thus “he is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against his breast” (Is. 40: 11). As in the exodus out of Egypt the Lord crosses the way of the desert with his people and is their guide until salvation. The Lord, “eternal God” (Is. 43: 28), is a God of mercy that “does not grow tired or weary, his understanding is beyond fathoming” (Is. 40: 28), that loves infinitely his people and invites them constantly to not be afraid: “For I, Yahweh, your God, I grasp you by your right hand; I tell you, `Do not be afraid, I shall help you'” (Is. 41: 13), “Do not be afraid Jacob, you worm...I shall help you” (Is. 41: 14). It suffices that his people are disposed to welcome his word and obey it: “Thus says Yahweh, your redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: I am Yahweh your God and teach you for your own good, I lead you in the way you ought to go. If only you had listened to my commandments! Your prosperity would have been like a river and your saving justice like the waves of the sea...” (Is. 48: 17).

1.3 Third Isaiah (Is. 56-66)

Everything indicates that it is necessary to situate this part of Isaiah after the exile, when a great part of the people had returned to Israel, though it is not easy to specify a precise date. The situation in which they live is difficult. The promises of Second Isaiah seem impossible to realize, even when the exile had already ended; the difficulties for reconstructing the Temple and those of the city were many; to the majority it seemed impossible to reestablish the conditions of a decent social, political and economic life. This prophet intends to invite the people to trust again in the word of the Lord that cannot fail (Is. 66: 5), already that he has placed himself by means of a covenant with his own (Is. 59: 21) confirmed in history (Is 63: 7-9). The Lord is always the same and has not become incapable of helping those that turn toward him with trust (Is. 59: 1). In this context it is necessary to read the enthusiastic descriptions of Jerusalem presented as a capital ideal of the new kingdom and center of the world to which all peoples will lead themselves (Is. 60-62; 65: 16-25; 66: 10-14). The motive of this future greatness of the holy city is the presence of the Lord that illuminates and surrounds with love the people that he has saved (Is. 60: 1,19-22; 62: 11-12).

In the season of Advent we read some texts of this prophet to reanimate our trust in the Lord in the midst of the difficulties of history, now that he comes to liberate his people and to fill them with joy (Is. 61: 1-11; 63: 16-64, 7). The third Sunday of Advent resounds the enthusiastic voice of this prophet as a true “gospel” for the poor, hope for the sick and message of liberation for slaves and prisoners: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me for Yahweh has anointed me. He has sent me to bring the news to the afflicted, to soothe the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, release to those in prison” (Is. 61: 1-2). As a herald on the occasion of the Hebrew celebration of jubilee, so the prophet announces liberation, consolation and peace for the entire community of Israel. It is “a year of favor from Yahweh” (Is. 61: 2), the perfect and definitive jubilee in which a new world is reestablished based on new relations among men and women. Also are changed the relationships between God and men and women thus the Lord is disposed to celebrate with his people a matrimony of love that will never end. The people are “like a bride adorned in her jewels” (Is. 61: 10), to whom God gives “a cloak”, as sign of protection and special love: “he has clothed me in garments of salvation, he has wrapped me in a cloak of saving justice” (Is. 61: 10). Also transformed will be the relationships between humanity and the entire cosmos now that God will make rise up a fertile and generous nature and a just and believing society: “For as the earth sends up its shoots and a garden makes seeds sprout, so Lord Yahweh makes saving justice and praise spring up in the sight of all nations” (Is. 61: 11).

The first Sunday of Advent, in turn, we will read as the first reading of the Mass the beautiful meditation about the history of Israel that is found in Is. 63-64. The prophet remembers the multiple saving interventions of God in the past rejected by men and women because of their rebelliousness and sin (Is. 63: 7-14; 64: 1-6) and that has brought about now a sorrowful and dramatic situation of the silence of God that would seem that he has forgotten his own: “Yahweh can you restrain yourself at all this? Will you stay silent and afflict us beyond endurance?” (Is. 64: 11). The people ardently beg: “oh that you would tear the heavens open and come down” (Is. 63: 19), knowing that the Lord in the end will save them (64: 4) thus is Father of the people, the potter that has formed them (63: 16; 64: 7), that will not turn to remember the faults of a repentant Israel (64: 4-5,8) thus he loves his own with an eternal love (63: 15,17).

2. “The plan of the Holy One of Israel” (Is. 5:19)

The first Friday of Advent, the first reading of the Mass from the prophet Isaiah (Is. 29: 15-24) offers us a theological clue for all of this liturgical time by way of the important terms in the message of Isaiah, such as “the work of my hands” (29: 23; 5: 12); “the works of Yahweh” (5: 12); “marvelous advice” (28: 29); “the plan of the Holy One of Israel” (5: 12). This is a central theme in the season of Advent, that constantly underlines the historical-sacramental dimension of salvation. The God of Advent is the God of history, the God that with his historical interventions, that arrive in their fullness in the Incarnation of Christ, has given consistency to the time of men and women, rescuing from sin and of nothingness human history. The first preface of Advent reflects this reach them of the prophet Isaiah when it speaks of the double Advent of Christ, saying: “when he humbled himself to come among us as a man, he fulfilled the plan you formed long ago and opened for us the way to salvation. Now we watch for the day hoping that the salvation promised us will be ours when Christ our Lord will come again in his glory”.

Isaiah calls “the plan” or “the work” of the Lord the project that God desires to realize in history and that can be recognized by men and women (Is. 5: 12,19; 28: 21). In Is. 29: 23 he calls it “the work of my hands”, in opposition to the works of those that exercise power and are realized in the dark (Is. 29: 15-16). According to Is. 5: 18-19, the actions of God, revealing his holiness and that transform radically history: are “the plan of the Holy One of Israel” (5: 19).

According to the reading from Isaiah on the first Friday of Advent, there are three principle characteristics of the work of God in history, which can serve as keys for reading the biblical texts for all of Advent:

(a) God makes the deaf hear the words of the book: “That day the deaf will hear the words of the book and, delivered from shadows and darkness, the eyes of the blind will see” (Is. 29: 18). The text speaks of the deaf and blind that will be liberated from their impediments from hearing and seeing, and of a book that will be able to be read. This verse ought to be interpreted in a literal since as a physical healing, but in a symbolic way. Isaiah speaks of the revelation of God that comes by way of the word of the prophets and that in a determined moment has been placed in writing (cf. Jer. 36; Is. 8: 17; 30: 8; 34: 16), which will be able to be understood and accepted by those that before, could not understand it. It is also affirmed that those that are blind will be able to see without difficulty. This is to say, that the surpassing is announced of the ethical-religious blindness that impedes seeing the sign of the times, the calls of God in history, his liberating action. In effect, one of the strongest condemnations of Isaiah to his contemporaries is that of not striving to see the historical action of God and of his exigencies (cf. Is. 5: 12; 22: 11). To sum up, Isaiah announces that eyes and ears will be liberated and that men and women will be able to see history in a new form discovering the Lord in it. This is one of the primary exigencies of the spirituality of Advent.

The words and the works of Jesus are the full revelation of the words of the prophets. “At many moments in the past and by many means, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; but in our time, the final days he has spoken to us in the person of his Son” (Heb. 1: 1). With reason, Jesus spoke to those that heard him: “But blessed are your eyes because they see, your ears because they hear! In truth I tell you, many prophets and upright people longed to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it” (Mt. 13: 16-17). Jesus is the Word that contains and carries to their fullness “the words of the book”. Revelations represents with “a sealed book” the plan of God in history that only the Lamb can open and reveal (cf. Rev. 5: 6). The season of Advent is the time of listening and vision. Listening to the words of the prophets and Christ, and vision of history and of the signs of the times in which God speaks.

(b) God brings joy to the poor: “The lowly will find ever more joy in Yahweh and the poorest of people will delight in the Holy One of Israel” (Is. 29: 29). Isaiah speaks of the `ebionim, that is to say of those who are socially weak and unprotected. In many prophetic texts with this term are designed for the exploited, that that are victims of the violence of the powerful (cf. Am. 2: 6; 4: 1; 5: 12; 8: 4,6; Jer. 2: 34; 5: 28; 22: 16; Ez. 16: 49). But also possesses a clearly religious meaning: the `ebionim are those that are presented before Yahweh as poor and needy (cf. Ps. 35: 10). The other mentioned group are those of the `anawim, that are contrasted with the proud and the cynics (Pr. 16: 19; 3: 4), and have a broken heart (Is. 61: 1) and look for Yahweh (Ps. 22: 27; 69: 33). Their rights are violated (Am. 2,7) but they receive the help of Yahweh (Ps. 10: 12,17; 25: 9; 76: 10; 149: 4), in whom they have placed their joy (Ps. 34: 3; 69: 33). They are the believing poor, God's poor that live openly to his mercy and place everything in his hands.

A constant in the history of salvation is the joy of the poor provoked for the saving actions of God. The Virgin Mary, central figure of Advent and paradigm of the poor of the Lord, is invited to joy in the face of the coming of God to his people: “Rejoice, you who enjoy God's favor, the Lord is with you” (Lk. 1: 28). The announcement of the birth of the Messiah is directed, in the first place, to the poor, to the shepherds that pass the night caring for their flocks: “I bring you news of great joy, a joy to be shared by the whole people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2: 10-11). And at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus himself, proclaims: “How blessed are you who are poor: the kingdom of God is yours” (Lk. 6: 20), and citing Isaiah defines his mission as “letting the oppressed go free...liberty to captives...year of favor from the Lord” (cf. Lk. 4: 18-19; Is. 61: 1-2). The time of Advent is the time to renew our solidarity with those who are the most poor of this world, with a spirit of infinite trust in the Holy God that upon coming to the world is the cause of joy for the humble and simple.

(c) God destroys unjust powers: “for the tyrant will be no more, the scoffer has vanished and all those on the look-out for evil have been destroyed” (Is. 29: 20-21). The text of Isaiah speaks of `artis, that is to say, the violent man, the tyrant (Is. 25: 4-5; 49: 25; Ps. 37: 5; Job 15: 20; 27: 13), of who acts with merciless cruelty against his equals. The other person is called in Hebrew lets, that is to say, the scoffer, the haughty, the cynic, that is the cause of violent disputes (Prov. 22: 10), lacking in intelligence (Prov. 19: 25) and full of evil (Prov. 9: 8; 15: 12; 13: 1; Ps. 1: 1), someone of shameless and faceless form that acts and speaks against the truth and without respect for God or others. The third expression used by Isaiah (“those on the look-out for evil”) is designed for those that devour the people, exploiting them and oppressing them (Ps. 14: 4; 53: 5), the gossips (Ps. 41:7; 59: 2-3), and to the wicked in general (Ps. 92: 7-8; 94: 4). When God acts in history, the proud and powerful are reduced; and the exploiters and schemers of injustice are destroyed.

In this time of Advent we will listen to the Mother of the Lord become an echo of these words of Isaiah in her canticle of praise for the great things that God has done in history: “Holy is his name, and his faithful love extends age after age to those who fear him. He has used the power of his arm, he has routed the arrogant of heart. He has pulled down princes for their thrones and raised high the lowly. He has filled the starving with good things, sent the rich away empty...” (Lk. 1: 49-53). The time of Advent is the moment to renounce our powerful attitudes and our hidden desires of domination over others; it is the time for trust in God in spite of the evil of the world and the power of sin and injustice. The day of the Lord will arrive as a thief in the night and it is necessary to live in vigilant hope knowing that God as a just judge arrives each day and will arrive at the end of time to create a new heaven and a new earth and “give to each one according to his works” (Rm. 2: 6; 1 Pt. 1: 17).

3. The “gospels” of Advent

The first Sunday of Advent, we read a text from Mark (Mk. 13: 33-37) that speaks of the glorious coming of Christ, unexpected but certain: “Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come” (Mk. 13: 33). It can happen at sunset, in the darkness of the night or when are already seen lights of sunrise on the horizon (Mk. 13: 35). The Lord teaches us the attitude that the Christian ought to live: “And what I am saying to you I say to all: Stay awake!” (Mk. 13: 37). The coming of the Lord ought not to cause fear nor superficial expectations, nor obsession for an end that no one knows when it will occur. The important thing is that the Christian lives responsibly with the challenges of each day and assumes with serenity his or her mission in history. The Lord is always close, he comes each day by way of our brothers and sisters and the signs of the times, and he will come personally for each one in the moment of death, and will come in glory at the end of time. That which is expected of us is an attitude of responsibility and of serenity to live charity, in constant vigilance to be faithful to the word of Jesus, thus “sky and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mk. 13: 31).

The second Sunday of Advent presents us with the figure of John the Baptist, as the last of the prophets that prepare the coming of the Messiah (Mk. 1: 1-8). The word of God carries us to the desert (Mk. 1: 3-4, 12-13), the place of everything essential, the place of decision and testing. There we hear one voice: that of the Baptism, that announces the coming of “someone more powerful” (Mk. 1: 7), that will baptize all of humanity in the Holy Spirit (Mk. 1: 8). Also we contemplate a gesture: the baptism in the Jordan for conversion and for the forgiveness of sins (Mk. 1: 4-5). The word and the gesture of the Baptism are like a synthesis of preparation and hope for Israel and for all of humanity before the Christ that arrives. Advent is a time that invites to recuperate that which is essential to faith: hearing of the word, conversion, and moral exigency. Only then can we go out to meet the Lord who comes.

The third Sunday of Advent turns to place us in front of the prophet John, the man of the desert, “a man sent by God...he came as a witness, to bear witness to the light” (Jn. 1: 6). The Gospel of John that we read today presents us with John as a witness of Jesus, that is the true light of the world (Jn. 1: 8; 8: 12). John the Baptist confirms that which Jesus, “the Word made flesh” (Jn. 1: 14), will say during his ministry. He is like a voice that orients and invites humanity to welcome the true way, the perfect light, and the baptism of the Spirit. He is like the friend that prepares the wedding for the spouse and then retires full of joy, as the same testifies: “It is the bridegroom who has the bride; and yet the bridegroom's friend, who stands there and listens to him, is filled with joy at the bridegroom's voice. This is the joy I feel, and it is complete. He must grow greater, I must grow less.” (Jn. 3: 29-30). To listen today to John the Baptist is to oblige ourselves to realize serious options in the Christian life, opening our hearts and entire lives to the word of Jesus.

The fourth Sunday of Advent we listen to the Gospel of the Annunciation (Lk. 1: 26-38). As background to the text of Luke, it is indispensable to understand to words of the angel to Mary, appears to the promise of God to David through the prophet Nathan (2 Sam. 7): “Your dynasty and your sovereignty will ever stand firm before me and your throne will be secure” (2 Sam. 7: 16). This prophetic words fulfill the Incarnation of the Son of God: “He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ver and his reign will have no end” (Lk. 1: 32-33). Mary is the new Zion in which the Son of the Most high becomes present. “The power of the Most High” overshadows her (Lk. 1: 35) making all of Old Testament history arrive at its definitive fullness through the “humble servant of the Lord” (Lk. 1: 38,48), all of her “full of grace” (Lk. 1:30), of whom will be born “the Holy”, “the Son of God” (Lk. 1: 35). This Gospel draws us close to the celebrations of Christmas and invites us to believe like Mary, to welcome like her the presence of God in history. With Mary we prepare to rediscover the power of God in favor of the poor, to receive Christ as definitive Word of the faithful God that comes to transform history. We are invited to receive the Child of Bethlehem with a mature faith that makes us find God in daily life and in the face of those brothers and sisters in which Christ becomes present.