Monday, November 8, 2010

The Christmas Prophet

This post has been linked to Amazing Catechists

Isaiah is our next prophet. He lived in the Southern Kingdom, which was called Judah; its capital was Jerusalem. Judah was named after one of the tribes of Israel, Yes, that was a gimme! Y'all may remember that the Northern Kingdom, where Elijah lived, was called Israel, and its capital was Samaria [I draw a quick map]; what do we call people who live in Samaria? Samaritans! Yes. Judah's main enemy at this time was Assyria. But even when they weren't fighting Assyria, the Judeans could never relax, because they were a small country surrounded by bigger ones. Just like today.

Anyway, like many other people in the Bible, Isaiah was minding his own business when out of the blue God spoke to him. In Isaiah's case he was at the Temple- in what city? Jerusalem? Yes. Isaiah writes, "...I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up in the temple." (Isaiah 6) Isaiah's having this vision in Solomon's Temple, but he's also seeing the Heavenly Temple, which Solomon's  Temple is patterned on, like the Meeting Tent. "Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew." Seraph is Hebrew for "burning one"; remember Kerub, Cherub, is Hebrew for... bodyguard! yes, "near one." Cherubim & Seraphim serve the LORD in Heaven. Look at this painting of a Seraph with his six wings:

 Isn't that cool? He's not on fire. No...but don't get picky. Seraphs are spirits, they don't have bodies anyway. "And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory." Where have you heard that? In Mass! Yes, the Mass quotes Isaiah.  "And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"  What's all this "unclean lips" business? He says bad things? Yes, Isaiah's a sinner, and isn't worthy of seeing the LORD, much less speaking for him out of a sinful mouth. Blechh.  "Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar." How hot would a burning coal be that you had to pick it up with tongs? Too hot to touch!  Yes! "And he touched my mouth, and said: "Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin is purged." Remind me, what "purge" mean? To clean something. Yes, usually it means to burn bad stuff away until only good stuff is left. The Bible talks about using fire to burn the impurities out of gold, for example. Imagine our souls are gold, what impurities would we want burned off? Sins? Yes, our sins. So Isaiah's sins are purged, burned away by this coal. That's why we think of Purgatory as being a swimming pool, right? Ha, it's fire, it burns! Oh, yeah, fire: it cleans away our sins, but it may hurt some.

Then Isaiah says, "And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Then I said, "Here I am! Send me." Isaiah is ready to be God's prophet...what other prophet said "Here I am" to God? Samson! No, the other Sam...Samuel! There you go. What I'm reading comes from a book mostly written by Isaiah; its name- Isaiah! would be Isaiah, yes. Y'all are learning.

Isaiah is my favorite prophet, and Jesus' favorite, too. In the Gospels we'll see Jesus say things that Isaiah said; I always imagine his listeners thinking, "Oooh, Jesus is quotin' Isaiah...I wonder what he means." Isaiah prophesied about lots of things, including Christmas, so let's get started.

Ever since the Happy Days of King David and King Solomon, the Judeans wanted peace and security; that is, they wanted a new King to provide them peace and security. They wanted an Anointed One, a...Messiah, yes, a Messiah, to save them. And Isaiah had a lot to say about a Messiah, as we'll see.

First, Isaiah announces not only that a Messiah is coming, but that the LORD is coming: "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."(Isaiah 40) How is the mouth of the LORD speaking? Through Isaiah! Right. So Isaiah speaks with God's...authority? Yes. People can't just tell Isaiah to keep his opinions to himself.

So Isaiah's telling the Judeans get ready for the coming of the LORD, although they're really interested in getting a...King? Yes, an...anointed one...a Messiah! That's it. But if God's coming too, well, it can't hurt, right?

Remember that ever since God first spoke to Abraham he wasn't God to everybody. God chose Abraham's descendants to be his people; that's why they called themselves the Chosen People, the Chosen Ones. Like being married to one wife, not a dozen. So the people in Isaiah's day were expecting the prophet to tell them how God was looking out just for them; but that wasn't Isaiah's message. For example, many Judeans were worshiping baby-eating Gods again, Baal and Moloch, so you'd expect Isaiah to say they should stop. He does say that, but says more (Isaiah 56):

"Blessed is the man who...keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and keeps his hand from doing any evil." That's obvious, just be good. "Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, "The LORD will surely separate me from his people" What's a foreigner? Someone from another country. Yes, someone who isn't a Jew; we call these people Gentiles in English.  "For thus says the LORD: "To [those] who choose the things that please me and hold fast to my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off." Who are God's sons and daughters? The Judeans? Yes. But Isaiah says that if Gentiles, foreigners, hold on to the covenant God made with Moses, God will give them a name "better than sons and daughters." How would you feel if your parents told you that? That they didn't love me! Yes. But God isn't telling the Jews that he doesn't love them, but that they have to do the right thing to be counted as his children. If they worship false gods, that's like you calling other adults Mom and Dad and ignoring your parents. How would your parents feel? Like I didn't love them. Right, so it goes both ways. And if there are Gentiles who weren't lucky enough to be born into God's family, but treat God like their Father, why shouldn't he give them "a name better than sons and daughters"? They had to make a special effort to be included in the family. What's that called when someone becomes the son or daughter of parents who didn't conceive them? Adoption? Yes. God is saying he will adopt other children into his family.

Isaiah continues: "And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD...these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples."

What would this "house of prayer" on a "holy mountain" be? The Temple? Yes. So God will treat the foreigners just like his own children, and the Temple will be not just for Judeans, but "all peoples." Just to make the point about everyone being able to be God's children, his Chosen, Isaiah says, "Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered." And remember, the Temple isn't only on Earth, it's Heaven. Yes.

And there will be a feast on the holy mountain: "On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of the best of meats and the finest of wines." I know y'all would prefer pizza and pop, but they hadn't been invented yet. Have we had this fabulous feast yet? No. Right, but we will, you'll see. And it's not just for the Chosen people, but for...all people! Yes! Then Isaiah says, "On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations. He will destroy death forever. The Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces." What veil is Isaiah talking about? The one in the holy space? In the Holy of Holies? Maybe...what does that veil do? Keep people from seeing God. Yes, but they'd like to see Him. So when God destroys the veil...people can see Him. Yes, we won't be separated from Him. And when we can see God, and death is destroyed, and tears are wiped away, where is that? Heaven! Yes; more than Heaven as we'll see. How can you have more than Heaven? I don't want to give it away...we'll see later on.

Back to the Messiah: Isaiah gives a hint of where this Anointed One will come from:

"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him..." Who was Jesse? David's father. Yes. He's the forefather of Israel's kings. Jesse fathered David, who- Solomon! ya too fast, yes, and so on. Isaiah is treating Jesse like the root of a tree that should grow to be big and healthy, but it's been cut down through the worship of baby-eating false gods, a divided kingdom, weak kings, big enemies, you name it. But a shoot, a branch, will grow out of the stump; that is, someone related to Jesse and David and Solomon.

Being a King, this Messiah should be tough like David, a good...soldier? Yes. But Isaiah says, "he shall strike the earth with the rod (you know, a stick, whack!) of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked." The breath of his lips? That sounds more like a talker than a doer...not a tough guy at all!   

 And "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb...and the calf and the lion and a little child shall lead them. ...In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a sign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11)"  Now if lions and wolves don't eat lambs and calves, what's that sound like? Eden! Yes, so Isaiah prophesies: God is coming, and a Messiah is coming, but he's not a tough guy, and somehow things will be more like Eden than like slaughtering your enemies.

OK, on to Isaiah and Christmas. Class, what's 'Christmas' mean? It's when Jesus was born. Yes, good, that's what Christmas is...but what does 'Christmas' literally mean? Oh, Christ's Mass. Yes again. And you're right, it celebrates Jesus' birth. ¿Quién aquí habla Español? Who speaks Spanish? Me! ¿Cómo se llama Christmas en Español? How do you say Christmas in Spanish? Navidad. Yes [Navidad goes up on the board]. Does 'Navidad' mean 'Christ's Mass'?  No, it means the baby is born. Right. In English we say Nativity [on the board]. Somebody tell me, what's a Nativity scene? It's the little statues of baby Jesus and the 3 Kings and all. reason I like the word Navidad is that it reminds me of Jesus being born in that little humble stable.

OK, here's the deal. I'm going to read Isaiah's Christmas prophecies one at a time. You tell me what part of the Nativity scene is prophesied and I'll draw it in. We're going to create a New Testament picture by using Old Testament prophecies. Here we go.

"Hear ye now, O house of David...the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." (7:13-14) Mary and Jesus! Yes; they aren't all this easy, I'm just being nice to start.  [Mary (and Joseph) are drawn, but not baby Jesus, for reasons that will become apparent later....maybe you can guess.]

Next: "O Jerusalem, you bring good not afraid, say...Behold your God!" (40:9) Ha! I told you the first one was easy. What are good tidings? Good news? Yes. In Luke's Christmas Gospel, who borrowed from Isaiah and said, " not afraid...behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy"? No guesses yet? Look at this Greek word, evangelousios [on the board]; it means good news, glad tidings. In Isaiah's day how did the king get his news? From TV? Ha, no, from  messengers! Yes, messengers. So let's think of evangelousios as meaning "good message" instead of "good news." Tell me again, who brings the message? The messenger! Yes. Please observe the magic finger [I erase from evangelousios until I have angel]. If evangelousios means "good message," what does "angel" mean? Umm, messenger? Yes, genius! So at Christmas, who said, "..behold, I bring you a good message of great joy"? Oh, the angel! Yes, God's messenger. And since the message comes from heaven, the messenger should have......wings! Yes. [On the board goes a winged messenger.] Make a halo! OK...there ya go.

Next:  "Behold, the Lord GOD.....shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom. (40:10-11)  All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee. (60:7) Shepherds and sheep! Yes. [I draw them.] That one looks like a dog instead of a sheep! Stop whining...pretend it's the best sheep you've ever seen.

And: "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee." (60:1-2)  No's more: "the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." The star! Thank you [up it goes], and what else...? Listen again: "the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising." (60:3) The kings! Yes, both of them! There were three! Well, Luke doesn't say how many. For now I'm showing two.

"The multitude of camels shall come...(60:6)" The camels! Yes...see if you can tell me how many humps. Two! One! Y'all wait a second and listen to it all, don't just guess like monkeys: "The multitude of camels shall come, the Dromedaries of Midian and Ephah." So? Two? You're just guessing again. Does anyone know the main difference between the Dromedary camels in this passage, and Bactrian camels? One of them has two humps! Yes, the Bactrian, so I'm drawing one-hump Dromedaries.

"....they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall show forth the praises of the LORD." The three kings brought gold and incense! Yes, two I'm drawing only two kings, see? But there were three gifts! Well, if y'all can name the third gift that Isaiah left out I'll draw it and a third king. So? Umm...myrrh? Yes genius, myrrh! [3 kings and 3 gifts on the board] We'll look at the gifts again later on this year.

"I have nourished and brought up children; and they have rebelled against Me." Just like teenagers! "The ox knows its owner; and the ass its master’s manger. But Israel does not know; my people do not consider." (1:1-3) Tell me...the ox?  Yes, and? the...the donkey? [on the board] Yes, and what's a manger? Baby Jesus' crib. Yeah, sort of... "manger" is the French word that means "to eat,"'s what the animals eat out of. Yes, the name tells us. [on the board] Listen again: "The ox knows its owner; and the ass its master’s manger." Whose manger is it? The master's? Yes, and who is the master? Jesus? Yes. [He goes in the manger]  "But Israel does not know; my people do not consider." This line doesn't give us anything to draw, but something to think about.

Notice that Isaiah says Israel doesn't know the master, but the dumb animals, the ox and ass do; maybe they aren't so 'dumb' after all,  and as we see from the picture, the humble, uneducated shepherds know who Jesus is, and so do the Gentile Kings, who aren't even Jewish. So we see that Jesus will come for the Judeans, for non-Jews (that's us), the rich and the poor. Jesus will come for everyone, "all peoples," as Isaiah prophesied.

(the result from this year's class)

OK, that's all the time we have tonight; next week we'll have an Isaiah story, which is about keys, before we move on to Jeremiah.

Class over!

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