The uncertain length of the final week of Advent is why the Church provides special Advent Scripture readings for December 17 through December 24. That way, She can ensure that the most important prophecies from the book of Isaiah are read in the days leading up to our celebration of the birth of Christ. No matter how long or how short the fourth week of Advent might be, all of the days in this final week fall after December 17.
The special Scripture readings begin with Isaiah's description of Cyrus the Great, king of the Persians, who is a foreshadowing of Christ. The works ascribed to Cyrus in the Scripture Reading for December 17 will later be performed by Christ.
This reading contains one of the most beautiful passages in Isaiah, a passage which plays an important role in the Church's daily prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours, because it is a prophecy of Christ:
Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just: let the earth be opened, and bud forth a saviour . . .
As the week goes on, Isaiah calls upon the Israelites to abandon all idols, in the Scripture Reading for December 18 and the Scripture Reading for December 20; and announces new prophecies concerning Christ, familiar to us from Handel's Messiah, in the Scripture Reading for December 21. With each passing day, the prophecies become more clear, until, with the Scripture Reading for December 24, Isaiah calls us to "arise," "shake thyself from the dust," and "rejoice and give praise together," because "all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God."
What remarkable passages, and what wonderful riches are to be found in the words of the Prophet Isaiah! As we try this week to draw back (at least in reflection) from the secular feasting that precedes and all too often overshadows the true Christian celebration of Christmas, there is no better guide than Isaiah. Through his words, the mysteries of Bethlehem are not only foreshadowed but explained.
Daily Scripture Readings for Advent:
- Scripture Readings for the First Week of Advent
- Scripture Readings for the Second Week of Advent
- Scripture Readings for the Third Week of Advent
- Scripture Readings for the Final Week of Advent