Often folks use the Bible as some sort of soothsaying device. This is missing the point. It is, instead, an introduction, a conversation, with Christ. Father Steve Grunow explores this theme, especially in Advent as we revisit the prophet Isaiah, and gives us comfort that in the midst of our desolation, suffering and despair, we always have a choice. And we always have an answer.
We are not a people of the book.
Why do I mention this? Often, this is the impression that people have, that like Jews and Muslims, Christians understand the revelation of the word of God in the same way. We do not.
The Church esteems the Scriptures, accepts that the Bible marks and remembers the revelation of God in a way that is singular, unique and privileged beyond all other claims to revelation. But for us, the definitive revelation of God is not simply delivered to us in a text, even the biblical text. The definitive revelation of God is a person — Jesus Christ and the scriptures reveal their significance inasmuch as they reveal him.
Contrary to what has become a popular perception, the Church does not use the Bible as if it is some kind of oracle. Instead, the scriptures are reverenced as a long, sustained introduction to Christ. Through the inspired authors of the Bible, who construct its stories, poems, histories and essays, God introduces us to Christ and Christ introduces himself to us.
And this is important. Knowing Christ is necessary if we are to know God, and as the Fathers of Second Vatican Council aptly put it, knowing God in Christ is the best means by which we can understand ourselves.
The primary purpose of the Scriptures is to introduce us to Christ. Any other reading of the Scriptures might be interesting, but will prove itself to be secondary and derivative. In fact, a person can know a great deal about the Bible, even esteem it as a source of revelation, but if they do not know Christ, or do not understand that he is the interpretive key to the Bible, they might offer important insights but miss the point of the Bible itself. Why? Because they do not know the person for whom the Bible was composed and written — Christ the Lord.
During the season of Advent, the prophets of the Old Testament are recalled by the Church with great regularity and urgency. The scriptures for Mass all highlight the visions of the prophets, particularly the prophet Isaiah.
Isaiah speaks eloquently and frequently about the restoration of Israel in such a way that it seems paradise on earth. Not only will their ancestral lands be renewed, but the people of Israel would be transformed as well. This transformation will bring about a communion of heavenly and earthly, of God and man that will be breathtaking to behold.
What Isaiah describes is not just a utopian dream, but an expectation that God will one day set right what had gone so terribly wrong. Isaiah's reference point is grounded in real history — the invasions of worldly powers had laid waste the lands of Israel and broken the spirit of the people. He surveys a real world catastrophe and foresees what God will do in response. One day, Isaiah foresees, God will set things right. This setting things right happens in Christ. And this is the reason that the Church proclaims Isaiah's dreams and visions. What Isaiah foresees, Christ fulfills.
What happened in the past to Israel, the catastrophe, the desolation of the land, the sad exile, the slavery and the breaking of their spirit, all culminating in the fear that God had abandoned his people and never would return, is not just history long ago — it is the reality of the present moment.
Perhaps we do not face the onslaughts of worldly powers driving us from our ancestral lands, but we do face sin and death, and the assault of both on our bodies and souls can be likened to what happened to the lands and peoples of Israel. Like Israel of old, we "mourn in lonely exile" watching in hope for God our Savior, and searching, as the prophets did, for signs of his coming.
The Church reminds us that God our Savior has indeed come, and not just in words, but as the Eternal Word who becomes flesh in the person of Christ the Lord. In this Incarnation, God speaks, not through the mediation of a prophet or a text, but with a real, human voice. The Word and the words are united in a way that they never could be, even if they were written in a book.
Christ entered into history and has not left it. The Word still speaks. He abides with us in the Church and in his presence (particularly in the sacred presence of the Blessed Sacrament), and we glimpse the paradise and restoration that Isaiah foresaw centuries ago.But will we accept him as he comes? That is the challenge so many have faced and it is described with such harrowing detail in the Gospel. God will come to us in Christ, and what will we do? How will we respond?
The decision for Christ is to receive what so many accept in the Gospel — a surprising, unexpected and seemingly impossible second chance. What of the decision against Christ? Such a choice evokes the terrifying prospect of an exile that will not end, of being left with prophecies that never deliver on their promises, and having to make due with words that never lead us to the God who would speak to us, and do so, face to face. Christ is the divine person who reveals that the long years of desolation have come to an end and that God is with us, that he hasn't abandoned us and that he never will. In revealing himself as a person, he keeps his word, but not only this, he becomes the Word made flesh.
Father Steve Grunow is the Assistant Director of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries.