The first reading at Mass on Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, has the prophet acknowledge fault and failing, and look for a radical renewal of the chosen people.
In the Book of Isaiah this confession and lament and expression of hope comes after the section that looks forward to the restoration of Jerusalem – ‘Console my people, console them.’
There is a danger in reading a book such as Isaiah simply as a sequential response to historical events, but one could read the text below as acknowledging that in exile or in restoration Israel struggles to be faithful. And the Church reads this Hebrew text and knows her own failings too.
You, Lord, yourself are our Father,
‘Our Redeemer’ is your ancient name.
Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways
and harden our hearts against fearing you?
Return, for the sake of your servants,
the tribes of your inheritance.
Oh, that you would tear the heavens open and come down!
– at your Presence the mountains would melt.
No ear has heard,
no eye has seen
any god but you act like this
for those who trust him.
You guide those who act with integrity
and keep your ways in mind.
You were angry when we were sinners;
we had long been rebels against you.
We were all like men unclean,
all that integrity of ours like filthy clothing.
We have all withered like leaves
and our sins blew us away like the wind.
No one invoked your name
or roused himself to catch hold of you.
For you hid your face from us
and gave us up to the power of our sins.
And yet, Lord, you are our Father;
we the clay, you the potter,
we are all the work of your hand.
- The lighting of Advent candles is a rebuke to the darkness that surrounds us, and that even dims our own hearts.
May the lighting of candles be accompanied by the earnest desire to learn afresh from the Lord and, in our frailties, to surrender ourselves to him in humble trust.
Photograph of stained glass from the church of St Augustine, St Austell, Cornwall. (c) 2006, Allen Morris.