The Vertical Thread of the Advent Old Testament Readings for Year A. A vertical thread is a spiritual theme that connects a series of readings over a number of weeks. During Advent, Year A, all of the first readings are taken from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and each reading is a vision that Isaiah experienced that looks ahead to a new day when peace will prevail.
A World Longing for Peace. Every generation longs for peace. During Isaiah’s time the Jews of the Northern Kingdom were conquered by the Assyrians in 722 BC, while the Jews of the Southern Kingdom in Jerusalem were besieged in 701 BC. All suffered, many died, and everyone longed for peace. The Jews of Jesus’ time were subject to a cruel Roman occupation force, and they pined for independence and peace. The people of today are troubled by fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the constant threat of terrorism, divisions in the Church, violence in our communities, and disputes within our families. We, too, long for the day when hostilities will cease, peace will be restored, and people of every race, language, and way of life will live together peacefully in mutual respect.
Advent, Week One, Year A, Isaiah 2:1-5. In the first reading for the First Sunday of Advent, Year A, Isaiah describes his vision of peace. It will be a time when “One nation shall not raise the sword against another” (Is 2:4c). War will come to an end. “They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks” (Is 2:4b). The instruments of war will become instruments of peace: tanks will be converted to tractors, helicopter guns ships will ferry relief supplies, and nuclear weapons will be converted to nuclear reactors that produce electricity for peaceful purposes. It will be a time when the nations will stream toward Jerusalem (Is 2;2), holy Salem (Gen 14:18), the city of peace. On that grand and glorious day, the fullness of God’s peace will be revealed, and people of every tongue and nation will be united in peace.
Advent, Week Two, Isaiah 11:1-10. On Week Two, the first reading begins with a description of Immanuel, the one who is the bringer of peace. Then, in very poetic terms, Isaiah describes his vision of paradise, a place of perfect peace, where the “wolf is the guest of the lamb” (Is 11:6), where the strong will no longer attack the weak, where those who usually are enemies will live side-by-side together in peace.
Advent, Week Three, Isaiah 35:1-6a,10. On Week Three Isaiah’s vision describes the day when conflict will finally come to an end, “Sorrow and mourning will flee” (Is 35:10), replaced by “joy and gladness.” With the restoration of peace, deportees will be able to return home and “enter Zion singing.” With war there is death, but with peace there is new life: “The desert will bloom with abundant flowers” (Is 35:1,2). With war there is injury, but with peace there is unimagined healing, “the lame will leap like a stag” (Is 35:6). The flowering desert is a metaphor for a world that has gone from violence and death to renewed life and glorious peace.
Advent, Week Four, Isaiah 7:10-14. On Week Four Isaiah’s vision describes a virgin who is with child (Is 7:14), the one through whom peace will be accomplished. The newborn son, Immanuel, God with us, is a descendant of David, the king who brought peace to Israel. The child is the “prince of peace” (Is 9:5). The promised Messiah will take the throne of his father David (Lk 1:32), and as eternal king, his birth signals “peace on earth” (Lk 2:14).