Set things right with the Lord. This is the message of the oracle that opens the book of the prophet Isaiah. Through the Liturgy of the Hours, it also opens the new liturgical year. Advent begins tomorrow. It is a time to set things right with the Lord, and with our sisters and brothers.
The Lord’s complaint against Israel
Sons have I raised and reared,
but they have disowned me!
An ox knows its owner,
and an ass, its master’s manger;
But Israel does not know,
my people has not understood.
Ah! sinful nation, people laden with wickedness,
evil race, corrupt children!
They have forsaken the Lord,
spurred the Holy One of Israel, apostatized.
Is 1: 2b-4 (NAB). For the next dozen verses, the language is increasingly intense. “The whole head is sick, the whole heart feint.” Is 1: 5b (NAB). “Wound and welt and gaping gash, not drained, or bandaged, or eased with salve.” Is 1: 6b (NAB). “Your country is waste, your cities burnt with fire; your land before your eyes strangers devour [a waste, like Sodom overthrown] ….” Is 1: 7 (NAB). The Lord rejects Israel’s sacrifices and does not hear its prayers. Is 1: 10-15a (NAB). What is the cause of all this?
Your hands are full of blood!
Wash yourselves clean!
Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes;
cease doing evil; learn to do good.
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged,
hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.
Is 1: 15b-16 (NAB).
As these words were written, Israel faced a military adversary, the Assyrian empire, that threatened its very existence. Although Isaiah speaks to this military threat, his opening oracle points to a more critical issue. By turning their backs on the orphan and widow, the people of Israel have disowned the Lord. A just relationship with God exists only where justice is given to the weak and marginalized.
God invites Israel to set things right
But the oracle offers hope. We have the opportunity to find favor with the Lord.
Come now, let us set things right,
says the Lord:
Though your sins be like scarlet,
they may become white as snow;
though they be crimson red,
they may become white as wool.
Is. 1: 17 (NAB).
Advent is the time to set things right with the Lord
To set things right with the Lord, then, is our task during Advent. The Lord is coming, this time not as Mary’s infant child, but as the just judge at the end time. And Jesus cautions us: “[Y]ou … must stand ready because the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” Mt 24:44 (NJB). We therefore need to set things right with the Lord now. “[N]ow is the real time of favour, now the day of salvation is here.” 2 Cor 6:2b J(NJB).
To set things right with the Lord requires more than attending Mass. It requires more than saying prayers or contemplating God’s love. These are good things, and we are better for doing them. But if we do not act justly to our sisters and brothers, God will reject our offerings of interior spirituality. We are called to break down the structures of sin. Delay doing so, and there may not be time later.