2On that day the branch of the LORD shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel. 3Whoever is left in Zion and remains in Jerusalem will be called holy, everyone who has been recorded for life in Jerusalem, 4once the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion and cleansed the bloodstains of Jerusalem from its midst by a spirit of judgment and by a spirit of burning. 5Then the LORD will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night. Indeed over all the glory there will be a canopy. 6It will serve as a pavilion, a shade by day from the heat, and a refuge and a shelter from the storm and rain. ~Isaiah 4:2-6
This is a classic early Advent text, in that it describes beauty and horror intermingled. Isaiah (the first Isaiah, writing at the time of Kings Uzziah and his son Hezekiah) warns against both Judah becoming a client state of the enormous and powerful Assyrian Empire, and against assimilation as expressed in a casual approach to worship of the one true God. Both kings ignore Isaiah until it is almost too late. Total devastation is averted. Significant devastation takes place.
So we have Isaiah describing Zion/ Jerusalem as beautifully restored and protected (about which he seems to be confident), and then, smack in the middle, the appearance of imagery that recalls the anti-woman rhetoric we find in many of the prophetic texts. The unfaithful city is a whore, its daughters are filthy. The bloodstains serve the dual purpose of reinforcing the image of the filth and also describing the devastation taking place at the hands of the Assyrians.
As much as I would like Advent to be about pregnancy and birth and awaiting in holy, candle-lit darkness the birth of this extraordinary baby, Advent forces my attention elsewhere. I can do as I did last Sunday and simply ignore it (I preached off lectionary-- after dealing with apocalyptic imagery in the Sundays of December, I needed to get to Jesus' birth). But it will not be ignored. It is the Glenn Close-Fatal-Attraction of the lectionary year: Advent will bring us images of death and destruction before it allows us to get to the baby.
That is because sea-change, world-upside-down events are believed to presage the coming of Jesus next time around. I'll say here what I say to everyone who asks (and, apparently, to some who don't). I don't believe God's plan is to destroy the earth. I believe there is too much in scripture-- including this passage-- that speaks of God's firm intention to provide us with restoration and and renewal. That God will be among us, face to face, is a firm promise. That this world will be a new creation, is set down here and in other places.
Below, my attempt at posting something that conveys both the chaos and the restoration, with the babe for good measure.