From Advent to Epiphany with the prophet Isaiah
By Nick Baines
The second part of the book of Isaiah rings with proclamations and prophecies that find their fulfilment in the Gospels and are still being fulfilled by followers of Jesus today.
Freedom is coming! The title is confident, and the deliberate italicisation indicates the author’s own conviction that the Christian message of hope will transcend the current fragmentation and cultural malaise of our society. Bishop Nick Baines has produced an interesting and original series of reflections designed to take us through the hectic six weeks of Advent to Epiphany, using the prophesies of Isaiah.
The opening chapter provides a wise, generally non-technical introduction to the prophetic themes within the history of the people of God. Exile and the imminent return to the promised land are the dominant ideas. The leading texts in the individual reflections are all taken from Isaiah chapters 40-55, that is, Deutero-Isaiah. Although it is not, I think, the main purpose of the book, this works very well as a general theological exegesis of this anonymous prophet of the exile. The context of this middle section of Isaiah and its stirring message are inseparable: freedom is coming, and we are coming home.
The daily texts and accompanying reflections provide plenty of scope for contemplation of our contemporary challenges and problems. We gain the wisdom of an experienced bishop and seasoned broadcaster in a way that can only strengthen and invigorate our Christian witness as we journey towards the Christmas season. My only qualm is whether we can sustain the pace. Will the book work as a systematic daily reading and reflection? Readers will need to be especially dedicated and determined during week 4 (22-28 December) and week 5 (29 December to 4 January), given the activities of the season. The book could, therefore, be used in Lent as well as Advent-Epiphany, especially if group discussions are envisaged. But this thought does not detract from the quality of this highly recommended book. It is much more than a series of ‘thoughts for the day’. It is an agenda for a Christian future in which all our contemporary problems are subsumed within the conviction of God’s faithfulness, and the demonstration of his love for the world and its peoples.
Reviewed by Leonard Rickard