This Saturday evening we celebrate the First Vespers of the First Sunday of Advent. The First candle of the Advent wreath will be lit and we begin the new Liturgical Year. This is more than a preparation for Christmas or commemorating the anniversary of the birth of Christ. We are again entering into the mystery of the incarnate God who came to us in history and who will come again as the consummation of creation. The annual liturgical celebration of Advent is a good time to pause and take stock of our relationship to this mystery.
Throughout the Season of Advent, the liturgies will be informed by the Prophecies of Isaiah. Rereading those liturgical texts on our own, praying from those texts, reviewing our lives through words and recognizing our own relationship to God can be a real boost to prayer. It can also be helpful–and prayerful–to read the scriptures with the help of commentaries or the meditations of informed writers. I’d recommend the following as a starter. I will just list authors and titles rather than particular editions; you can find out all you need to know on Amazon.com!
Some of you might have other books to suggest–please share your suggestions with us.
Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972). Rabbi Heschel was deeply involved in the interfaith-dialogue of his times and had an impact on Christian, specifically Catholic, catechises. He corresponded with Thomas Merton, for example and visited him in his hermitage at Gethsemani Abbey. Rabbi Heschel marched in Selma for Civil Rights and was dedicated to seeking peace and dialogue rather than war. His two volume work, The Prophets, remains a fine introduction for grasping the mentality of these Biblical figures and their message. This is not so much a work of Biblical exegesis as an apologetic and spiritual approach to the prophets. Specific prophets are described in the second volume. Heschel’s God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism is also a good introduction to the impact of revelation in the human experience
Walter Brueggerman (1933) is a retired United Church of Christ minister who was active as an Old Testament scholar. His two volume commentary on Isaiah–Isaiah 1-39 and Isaiah–40-66–reflects the best scholarship at the end of the twentieth century and an intense awareness that the prophecy is a Living Word still assessing the response of the faith community.
Joseph Blenkinsopp (1927) is Professor Emeritus of Biblical Studies at the University of Notre Dame. His work, Opening the Sealed Book: Interpretations of the Book of Isaiah in late Antiquity, would be of more interest to a student of scripture and those of you have have a degree in religious studies or theology. This book deals with the reception of Isaiah’s text by later Judaism and Christianity.
Robert Louis Wilken (1936) edits The Church’s Bible: Isaiah. This series collects patristic commentaries on various books of the Bible. It’s interesting to note that not every chapter of Isaiah has comments from the Fathers; what we find here are those texts mostly celebrated in the liturgy. This can be illuminating reading for grasping the spiritual tradition of reading Isaiah by Christians.
And now for something completely different: Roger A. Bullard is a professor of religion. His Messiah: The Gospel according to Handel’s Oratorio, is a refreshing consideration of the theological program of this season’s unavoidable masterpiece. Handel’s work is, indeed, a mediation on the mystery of Christ and Professor Bullard’s exposition can provide backbone and insight to our enjoyment. I’m a Handel fanatic but even I’d wish that Dr. Bullard would also consider Bach’s Christmas Oratorios and Schutz’s motets!