12/ 6/ 16
Note that the first reading is taken from Chapter 40 of the Book of the Prophet. In it the Lord, through his prophet tells the people that their time of captivity in Babylon is at an end, and he will facilitate their return to Jerusalem for rebuilding the city and the temple. That was to take place in the year 530 B.C.
An odd thing about this, is that the previous chapter, 39, recounts events from a hundred and seventy three years before that in 703 B.C. . Back then, Babylon, a new nation in Mesopotamia, had sent an emissary of peace to confer with Judah’s King Hezekiah. The king showed his treasury and armory to the visitor, and the Prophet Isaiah told him he had made the mistake of inviting the Babylonians to conquer Judah.
So, although today’s Chapter is presented to us as the work of Isaiah, it was actually the work of another prophet who came along a hundred and sixty years later The task of this second Isaiah was that of wedging the people out of Babylon where they, their parents and grandparents had made homes for themselves.
What is more, those people are frightened of what would happen to them on the way to old Jerusalem, and they lacked the skills to rebuild Jerusalem. But God here tells them he was sending his angel to prepare the way for them. He says it will be smooth going, with every crooked way made straight, every hill made low .
Jesus when he would come along two hundred years later, would tell them that the angel mentioned back then was actually a prophesy concerning his forerunner, John the Baptist.
Fifty years ago the St. Louis Jesuits made a hymn out of the final words here.
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock: and gathers the lambs in his arms;
Holding them carefully close to his heart, and leading them safely back home.