An excellent way to focus our thoughts and deepen our understanding of the meaning of Advent is to turn to the Bible. Sometimes, however, it’s hard to know where to start. That is why the Catholic Church has provided us with the Office of the Readings, part of the Liturgy of the Hours, the official prayer of the Church. In the Office of the Readings, the Church has chosen Scripture passages that are appropriate to every day of the year.
Every season of the Church year has a certain theme or themes. During Advent, the Church turns to the Old Testament book of the Prophet Isaiah. There are many themes in Isaiah's prophecy, but some of the most important are:
- The need for repentance
- Spiritual conversion
- The extension of salvation from Israel to all nations
From December 17 through December 24, the Church offers special readings to ensure that key parts of the Book of Isaiah are read before Christmas. The readings and commentary linked from this page take the place of the regularly scheduled reading for any day during the third week of Advent that falls on or after December 17. All days in the fourth week of Advent fall after December 17, so use the reading below for the appropriate date.
During the last eight days before Christmas, the prescribed readings include the greatest prophecies from the Book of Isaiah. On December 17, we read of a Christ-figure: Cyrus the Great, king of the Persians, whom God used as a protector of the Jews, even though Cyrus did not profess faith in Him. The works ascribed to Cyrus are those that are later performed by Christ.
The Israelites were constantly tempted to abandon faith in God and to turn to idols instead. In this passage from the Book of Isaiah for December 18, the Lord reveals the futility of idols. He created us; He alone is our God; and He alone can save us. His plan of salvation will soon begin, with the birth of His Son, Jesus Christ.
The prophecies of Isaiah continue to point to the coming of Christ. In the reading for December 19, we discover the fate of Babylon, which represents those who have rejected the Lord. God used Babylon to punish the Israelites (the Babylonian captivity), but the Babylonians never came to worship Him. Now, as Christ comes and Israel is restored in the New Testament Church, Babylon will be punished for her unbelief.
In this passage from the Book of Isaiah for December 20, the Lord tells the people of Israel that His prophecies, announced in the past and already fulfilled, were to keep Israel from falling into the worship of idols. Now, the Lord will announce new prophecies—those concerning Christ—and the fact that they have not been heard before will be evidence of the power of God, once they are fulfilled.
As Christmas approaches, the passages from the Book of Isaiah might seem more familiar. The reading for December 21 includes verses that we have all heard in Handel's Messiah. The Lord identifies Himself as the Creator of all, and He describes Himself in ways that Christ will be described.
Christmas is coming, and so Isaiah's prophecies are turning toward the restoration of Israel. Christ, through the plan of salvation, will reunite all mankind to God. In this reading for December 22, we see that our sins have separated us from Him, but the Lord does not forget those whom He has both created and chosen.
In the reading for December 23, the Prophet Isaiah assures us that what the Lord has promised, He will deliver. He chose Abraham for his justice, and from him, He raised a great nation. From that nation, a Child is born, Who will bring salvation to all mankind.
The long wait is almost over; our redemption is at hand. Tomorrow, Christ becomes a Man, but not just any man; He is the God-Made-Man Who cleanses us from our sins. Israel is restored, in the Church of the New Testament; and the Gospel is preached to all nations.