While Advent is quickly coming to an end this year, with even the final Sunday being suppressed by the Vigil of the Nativity, I’ve been wondering of late why the Church presents to us during this season the veterotestamental figures of the prophets Sts. Isaiah and John the Forerunner as well as the Blessed Virgin Mary.
There is an obvious reason for this choice: the saints pointing directly to the coming Christ. St. John the Forerunner prepared the people of Israel, calling them to repentance in the imminent advent of the Christ; the Blessed Mother served as a worthy tabernacle to Our Lord; St. Isaiah prophesied the coming of the Messiah through both – “a virgin shall conceive” and “the voice of one crying in the desert”.
I would, however, venture another reason. These saints are chosen by the Church for this season, not only because they point so intimately to the advent of Christ, but also because of their unreserved “yes” to God, their immediate self-oblation to the Lord as soon as he requires them.
While the Old Testament provides us with plenty of saints that did the word of God, not all of them did so eagerly. Sts. Moses and Jeremiah, for example, come to mind, both trying to excuse their way out of doing the Lord’s commission due to speech impairments (cf. Ex 4:10; Jer 1:6), with Moses aggravating the case even more by insisting that God chose someone else (cf. Ex. 4:13)!
If we look at these three prominent “advential” saints, we don’t find that kind of hesitation. Although Isaiah was filled with dread at the heavenly vision he beheld in the Temple, he offered himself straight away for God’s mission:
And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying: Whom shall I send? and who shall go for us? And I said: Lo, here am I, send me.
The Blessed Mother mirrors Isaiah – while being “troubled” at Gabriel’s salutation, nonetheless gives her fiat once it is explained what is expected of her:
And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.
Finally, we have John the Forerunner. While the Scriptures do not give us his personal “yes”, it is eventually given through his father Zachariah’s acceptance of the angelic message. If the priest’s initial hesitation casts any doubt on this, we need only see his reaction as he sings the Benedictus canticle:
And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest: for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways.
The Evangelist goes on to tell us that the child was then brought up in a manner conducive to fulfilling his divine calling (parenthetically, it is worth noting the parallels between John and Samuel’s stories, even if Hanna is an antitype of Mary):
And the child grew, and was strengthened in spirit; and was in the deserts until the day of his manifestation to Israel.
In the end, Isaiah and John suffered the same fate – martyrdom. Both called their people to repentance, and both were killed for it. Mary, though being the gebhirah – the Queen Mother – lived a hidden life in this world. To these saints, though they might not have understood fully what they were giving their consent to, it was enough to know that it was to God. This Advent, as we are making a new beginning, might it not be an opportune time to get better acquainted with these saints and ask their intercession so that, with them, we can say fiat?