by Father Mike Stubbs
When a disaster such as a tornado or a fire strikes a house, the question sometimes arises whether to repair the damages or to rebuild elsewhere. This question becomes even more pressing when an entire city undergoes massive destruction, such as we saw in Joplin, Mo., this last year.
That was the situation when the prophecy was uttered that we hear now as the first reading of Sunday’s Mass, Is 60:1-6. The city of Jerusalem had been completely demolished by the invading Babylonian army in 587 B.C. The political capital of Israel, and its religious center, was wiped off the face of the earth. Israel’s hopes had disappeared along with it.
The vision that the prophet proclaims in our reading promises Jerusalem’s rebirth. Its inhabitants who had been driven into exile will return: “Your sons will come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.”
But the prophecy goes even further in its promises. Not only will Jerusalem’s former inhabitants return, but also foreigners will flock to the city: “Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance. Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you.” These foreigners will stream into the demolished city in order to help rebuild it. And they will bring their considerable wealth with them in order to accomplish that: “The riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you. Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; all from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense.”
This prophecy originally referred to Jerusalem’s rebuilding, in a very literal sense. But later Christian tradition has reapplied those words to the birth of Jesus Christ. Just as the city of Jerusalem had attracted foreigners, Jesus Christ similarly spoke to the hopes and dreams of those outside Israel. The gentiles who would respond to the good news brought by Jesus Christ are represented by the Magi who visit the Christ Child in Mt 2:1-12. They bear gifts of gold and frankincense, and travel in from the east, just as described in Isaiah’s prophecy.
It is appropriate that Jesus Christ should take the place of Jerusalem in the prophecy as reinterpreted by Christian tradition. After all, the city of Jerusalem housed the temple, the dwelling place of God.
But we, as Christians, believe that God dwelt among us through Jesus Christ: “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us; and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth” (Jn 1: 14).
The light of faith enables us to see God’s glory. It enables us to see the darkness of sin banished by the grace that comes to us through Jesus Christ. It enables us to see that which had suffered destruction restored to wholeness by his love.