Tell it Like it Is
“Prophets are those who take life as it is and expand it. They refuse to shrink a vision of tomorrow to the boundaries of yesterday.”
― Joan Chittister OSB
Prophecy has a bad rap in our day and age. When we think of people who prophesy we tend to think of the fortune teller type people.
Like that Fundamentalist guy down in the states who said the world was going to end a couple of years ago.
It didn’t. It never seems to. And so these people who tell us that they have heard God’s voice telling them the end is near tend to go down in history as being more or less crazy.
There were some famous people like this, Zarathustra and Nostradamus were two of the ones whose words seem to have survived… mostly because the conspiracy minded type people like to think that someone saw it coming…. In the year 2013 the moon will turn red… If someone wrote that in 1300 and it happens… it is a big deal.
The Mayan people prophesied that the world would end in 2012… so far we are still here.
The thing is… that is not Prophesy. That is, as I said, fortune telling. And it is almost always wrong, and mostly just a good guess if it right.
Prophecy is something else… it is hard core truth.
It is an inspired message. Sure, a lot of the time it is communicated as a message from the gods… But it is a message that cuts through to the core of the matter, that sees the world for what it is, and that wakes you up to possibility.
A true prophet does not say, the world will end some day. A true prophet says, look around, we are destroying the world.
For thousands of years we have come to see that prophets have risen up among the people trying to help them to see the truth right in front of them, trying to get them to see that things have to change, trying to get them to admit they need help.
To understand that baby born in a manger in Bethlehem, you have to understand this message. People who spoke for God spoke of someone needing to stand up and make a difference.
With the Kids
- Preparing. How do you prepare your house for Christmas? What sorts of things do you do?
A Voice in the Wilderness
John the Baptist stood in the traditions of the prophets before him. Like Isaiah, Like Micah, Like Jeremiah, Like Ezekiel and all the rest John looked at the world before him and saw that it was not the way that God wanted it to be.
People had made religion into following rules. Romans were bringing a lot of foreign concepts and changing things. Life was hard an unfair.
And somehow, John saw that this was about to change. He knew that he was standing at the threshold of a different world.
See, here is what prophecy is. Think of it this way. Winston Churchill might have stood on the balcony one day and said to the gathered people, this will end in war. He did not make the war happen; he did predict it… he saw it coming.
We cannot be sure what John saw, but he saw it coming… a change. He knew someone was going to stand up and take over. He knew that the time was ripe for a new way of thinking. And so he was all about preparing, inspiring, and beginning to change the people.
The moment was right for a religious leader who would change everything.
God Will Save Us
You have read enough Psalms in church, you have heard passages like I read from Isaiah and Micah, what I am about to say will not surprise you. The overall prophetic message of Judaism for thousands of years was simple. Surely God will save us.
We are slaves in Egypt, The Babylonians have deported us, the crops have failed, God will save us.
When you read the Old Testament it is basically thousands and thousands of pages outlining a repeating pattern, we ignore God, we get in trouble, God steps in, we are saved, over and over and over….
We mess everything up and the flood happens so we can start over, we get trapped in Egypt and Moses comes along, we end up in a civil war and King David brings peace… This is the message of the Bible, the gospel truth, the good news… we mess up, God saves us.
Now, that is the simple answer… but it is not the real thing that is happening.
If we look a little deeper what the prophets are pointing out is far more complex: Here is the complex message that each of those Old Testament prophets, and even the New Testament ones like John… and even Jesus… preach:
The world is going to heck in a handbasket. Look around, things are not going well. And you know why? Because you have ignored the way you should live. You look to your own needs instead of the needs of others. You have become callous and self-centred… people have forgotten the basic ideas like generosity and love and compassion.
If things don’t change we will destroy ourselves.
You need to listen to the people that speak with God’s voice. You need to turn back to God’s way. You need to see that there are people right in front of you trying to show you the way. Listen to them and change your heart.
Martin Luther King Jr: On Vietnam
"This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation's homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate in to the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."
The Prophetic Voice
See what I am saying. That is a prophet. That is someone speaking for God. They are looking at the world around them and saying, this is not right, this is not the way God wants it to be. Something has to change. Someone needs to step in and make things right.
This is our tradition. And it is into this understanding of the world that Jesus entered.
Jesus came to be just that person, Jesus grew up and embraced God’s love and God’s way of seeing the world so completely that he showed us a completely different way to live.
He showed that it was possible in the midst of poverty to still be generous, that it was possibly in the middle of a cynical world we can still have hope, that in the middle of self centredness we can still care.
He changed the way we thought about life.
When we speak of waiting for Christmas, when we speak of preparing for Jesus, when we speak of Advent, this is where we begin. We begin with the prophets, we begin knowing that we too live in a world that is not what it should be, We begin hoping that something, that someone will come once more to help us change it.
That is what we are waiting for.
And that is what we believe that Jesus can do when he is born once more into our hearts at Christmas.