Prepare Ye The Way: The Prophets Foretold

Prophets of the Old Testament

First of all, it is a pleasure for me to be leading this retreat – really more like a Morning of Reflection. When the ladies in the Council of Catholic Women asked me to be the guest speaker, I couldn’t have been more excited. Advent is one of my favorite times of the liturgical year in the Church because, even though it is meant to be a penitential season, it is filled with such joy and hopeful expectation. But for our morning together, I really want this time to be one of prayerful reflection for each of us, that as we continue toward Christmas, that we simply open our hearts to allow the Lord to prepare the way for the coming of His Son in just a couple of short weeks. Christmas is less than two weeks away. So how can we continue that process? How can we prepare the way of the Lord in our hearts?

I think one way we do that is by looking back into the history of our faith – looking back on how God has been working throughout human history to prepare the world for the birth of Jesus on that first Christmas. If we understand our past, as a people of faith, we might be able to understand the present. That should also give us hope that we can foresee what is likely to happen in the future.

In order for us to recognize the fullness of the Christmas story, we have to go back to the very beginning of history – to the Garden of Eden. We know the story. God created man and woman, placed them in the Garden, told them that they have dominion over everything, over all creatures. There was only one thing that they couldn’t do – they were forbidden from eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, the knowledge of good and evil. Then comes the slithering snake and tempts our First Parents to do just that. The result was the Fall of Adam and Eve. The consequence was that every human person was born with the effects of Original Sin. The other consequence of the Fall was something that was eternal in nature – the human race no longer enjoyed communion with God. Therefore, we needed a way to be able to return to the Father, which is where Jesus comes in.  From the time of the Fall, the Father began preparing the way for His Son to enter into the world. He began putting his plan of salvation into motion.

For the first talk of the retreat, I want to focus on how the Father prepared the way of the Lord and how those preparations were made manifest through the prophets. We are going to take the journey through the history of the prophecies that pointed to Jesus’ birth. (There were other prophecies pointing to Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection. This talk won’t include that information. Instead, I’m going to focus more on the prophecies that were fulfilled with Jesus’ birth.) They were the ones who helped prepare the hearts of the early Christians; they helped the people of Israel come to recognize who Jesus was and how He was the fulfillment of the promise of God. That is their same purpose for us now…to reassure us that God will continue to remain faithful to that promise. They likewise are the ones who challenge us today to prepare the way of the Lord…to prepare for His return in glory.

Prophecies of the Birth of the Messiah

Throughout the Old Testament, there are prophecies that give information about how the Messiah would be born and where he would be born. It begins in the Book of Genesis.

Born of a Woman:

In the third chapter of Genesis, we read about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. God is speaking to the snake in the middle portions of the chapter. God tells the serpent the eternal consequences that he faces because he coerced Adam and Eve into sin. And in Gn. 3:15 we have the first prophecy of sorts of the Messiah and how he would be born of a woman. God says: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.” We know that Jesus is born of Mary – the prophecy is fulfilled in her (cf. Mt 1:20; Gal 4:4). Think of the many statues that we see of Mary. What is she typically standing on? Usually it is a globe that is entangled with a snake. It is Mary who crushes the head of the serpent.

Virgin Birth:

Some of the prophecies in the Old Testament take the Messiah being born of a woman to the next step, pointing to the virgin birth of the Savior. The Prophet Isaiah says this: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (7:14). Some translations of this text say “a virgin will conceive and bear a son,” which is quoted in the Gospel of Matthew (1:22-23). The Gospel of Luke also speaks about the birth of Jesus to Mary, the virgin betrothed to Joseph.

The Old Testament then does not contain a formal announcement of the virginal motherhood, which was fully revealed only by the New Testament. But nonetheless, Isaiah’s prophecy (Is 7:14) prepares for the revelation of this mystery. By quoting the prophecy, Matthew’s Gospel proclaims its perfect fulfilment through the conception of Jesus in Mary’s virginal womb.[1]

Born in Bethlehem:

Where was this Messiah to be born? The Prophet Micah says that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem. “But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” (Mic 5:2). This not only speaks to Jesus being born in Bethlehem (Mt 2:1; Lk 2:4), but it also somewhat points to the reality of who Jesus is.

Think about the first chapter of the Gospel of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (Jn 1:1-2) – the Messiah’s origin would be from of old, from ancient days. “These words re-echo the expectation of a birth full of messianic hope, in which once again the mother’s role is stressed, the mother explicitly remembered and ennobled by the wondrous event that brings joy and salvation.”[2]

Lineage of the Messiah

A few days ago, at the Night of Merciful Love, I decided to celebrate a votive Mass for the Blessed Virgin Mary, Chosen Daughter of Israel. The Gospel for that particular celebration is the genealogy of Jesus from the first chapter of Matthew. The parallel to it is found in Luke 3. There are a few minor differences between the two genealogies – those differences are mostly due to focus on a particular aspect of Jesus’ lineage and how that piece of the puzzle is important to the people within those specific early Christian communities to whom that Gospel is being preached. But for the most part, the major players are present in both. Again, the prophets foretold of how the Messiah would be a descendant of certain tribes within Israel.

Descendant of Abraham:

Two places in the Book of Genesis tell us that the Messiah would be a descendant of Abraham (Gen 12:3: God says to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”; that is echoed in Gen 22:18 – God says “by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves”). The genealogy of Jesus in Matthew says that He was a “son of Abraham.” Through Him, all those who claim the name Christian, become the offspring of Abraham and are included in the blessed ones of God.

Descendant of Isaac:

Genesis 17:19 says that God would establish an everlasting covenant with the descendants of Isaac. Abraham is even told later, “it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you” (Gen 21:12). Jesus is a confirmed descendant of Isaac in the genealogy presented in Luke (3:34).

Descendant of Jacob:

God also used prophets from outside of Israel to give details about the future Messiah. In the Book of Numbers, Balaam, who originally tried to plot evil against the people of Israel, says that the Messiah would be from the line of Jacob. He says: “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near – a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel” (Num 24:17). Matthew highlights how Jesus is descended from Jacob, thus fulfilling this prophecy.

Descendant of Judah:

Jacob’s son, Judah, is the next person down the lineage of Jesus. In Genesis 49:10, we are told how the staff of rule will never be removed from the line of Judah. It says: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and the obedience of the peoples is his.” The scepter and the staff are symbols of sovereignty. This passage from Genesis predicts that Judean royalty would reign until Judah’s Davidic descendants achieve universal dominion. Jesus is the one who achieves that dominion as a result of His death and resurrection. Both Luke and Matthew’s genealogies provide evidence for how Jesus is a descendant of the tribe of Judah.

Descendant of David:

In the Second Book of Samuel, the prophet Nathan promises David that God’s favor would be upon his descendant. It is within this prophecy that it is revealed that the kingdom which will be established in David’s name will last forever. “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” (2 Sam 7:12-13). But here’s the important part of that prophecy. God continues to speak through Nathan and says this: “I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Sam 7:14).

“God wants to exercise a paternal role towards David’s offspring, a role that will reveal its full, authentic meaning in the New Testament” with the Incarnation of Jesus, the Word made flesh in the family of David (cf. Rom 1:3).[3]

Isaiah continues this idea that the throne of David will endure forever. He says of the Messiah: “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore” (Is 9:7).

In Ezekiel 37:24-25, we read:

My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall follow my ordinances and be careful to observe my statutes. They shall live in the land that I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your ancestors lived; they and their children and their children’s children shall live there forever; and my servant David shall be their prince forever.

Ezekiel 37:24-25

In these verses, Ezekiel was not speaking about King David being the one who was to rule over Israel. The circumstances of the situation in the kingdom under David’s rule do not support that idea. So it is believed that Ezekiel was speaking of an offspring of David. The prophecy is about a descendant of the House of David, who would have ruled over one nation in one land.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is identified as the heir to the throne of David. It echoes both of these promises from the prophets of old. It says of Jesus: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Lk 1:32-33). The throne would be anointed and eternal (Ps 45:6-7; Dan 2:44; Ps 102:25-27; Heb 1:8-12). It isn’t of this world.

The one nation in the one land that Ezekiel speaks of is the homeland of Heaven. Jesus will be the one who makes entry into the homeland possible. It is through His suffering, death, and resurrection that we become able to return to that communion with God that was lost after the Fall of our first parents. But in order to restore that communion and make us coheirs to that Kingdom, Jesus first had to be born.

This is what the prophets that we have just spoken about foresaw. They all revealed how the Messiah would be born, where He would be born, to whom He would be born. Those aspects of our faith story are important. They’re important because had Jesus not been born, He would not have saved us from the grip of sin in His Passion. This is why the obedience of Mary, her willingness to say yes to God to be the mother of the Savior is so crucial. Without her fiat, without her faith that God was doing something incredible in this tiny child that she was about to welcome, none of this would have been possible. And that will be the focus of our next talk.

[1] Pope John Paul II. “Isaiah’s Prophecy Fulfilled in Incarnation” in L’Osservatore Romano. 7 February 1996.

[2] Pope John Paul II. “Isaiah’s Prophecy Fulfilled in Incarnation” in L’Osservatore Romano.

[3] Pope John Paul II. “Isaiah’s Prophecy Fulfilled in Incarnation” in L’Osservatore Romano.

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