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Seeing things upside down with Isaiah


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Joseph Pearce - published on 12/21/23

Pilgrims to the Manger: Isaiah is the most paradoxical of prophets who seems to see the last things first and the first things last

Sometimes the deepest truths are best revealed in riddles. This can be seen in the way that Jesus teaches many of his most profound lessons through the weaving of those riddling fictional narratives known as parables. It can also be seen in the way that Jesus concludes his parables with those riddles knowns as paradoxes. Take, for instance, the parable of the workers in the vineyard which ends with that most perplexing of paradoxes: “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.”

A paradox is an apparent contradiction that shocks us into seeing things in a new light or from a new angle. This is why G. K. Chesterton says that we should stand on our heads so that we can see things that we’ve taken for granted in a fresh way. It is in this paradoxical light that we should see the prophet Isaiah. We should stand on our heads so that we can see him clearly.

This is because Isaiah is the most paradoxical of prophets who seems to see the last things first and the first things last. He is best known for his prophecies concerning Christ as the suffering servant, as the Messiah who lays down his life for the redemption of his people. He is the prophet of the crucifixion. He is also the prophet of the last things, the things of the apocalypse, inspiring St. John the Divine’s Book of Revelation.   

And yet, in the midst of Isaiah’s prophecies of the death of Christ is the still, small voice that whispers the portentous news of Christ’s birth. And in the midst of the trumpet blasts of Isaiah’s prophesies of the Second Coming and his heralding of the doomsday knell of the Final Judgment is the heavenly polyphonic choir proclaiming that a Child is born. “Therefore the Lord himself with give you a sign,” says the prophet Isaiah, more than 700 years before the birth of Christ. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”


[The Aleteia community is joining the journey of an Old Testament pilgrim each day this Advent, as they lead us to the Christ Child in this holy season. Find the daily reflections here.]

Pilgrims to the Manger
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