By Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
Have you ever found yourself wondering: what exactly is a prophet? What is their role and purpose? Why does God use so many of them?
Simply put, a prophet is God’s messenger. While they often have roots in mainstream culture, something about most prophets sets them outside the norms of mainstream culture. They are the other. Both in their sometimes odd appearance, and most definitely in their counterculture message they are preaching. They stand out from the norm in every possible way. The very nature of their job is to call attention to the fact that we cannot continue with ‘business as usual’.
The prophet is frequently preaching to a particular group, though their message often applies to a much wider audience. As the audience, our job is to receive the message God sends us through the prophet. But for whatever reason, we tend to dislike doing this. We really like to make it rather difficult for the prophet to get their message across to us. I suppose it is linked into our wiring as human beings, our resistance to change, even when we know it is needed and God calls it of us.
Yet our job as receivers of the message is to lean into the message, to lean into God’s grace. When we can lean into God’s grace and we can listen, we can change both our hearts and our ways. We can acknowledge that we have been sinful. Because as innocent as our sins may seem at times, particularly from where we sit with our unique personal histories and life experiences, they are still our sins because our choices have still separated us from God’s will for us. It is a sin whenever we put our desires, our wishes before God’s. The prophet is simply trying to bring reconciliation and healing through God’s message. The prophet’s message--when we do take heed--prepares us to greet the coming of Christ with complete joy, as well as the fullness, peace, and love of knowing God.
John the Baptist was a prophet who sought to bring a true transformation of God’s people in order to prepare them for the coming of Christ. As Richard Rohr describes him in Preparing for Christmas, “John the Baptizer is the strangest combination of conviction and humility, morality and mysticism, radical prophecy, and living in the present. This son of the priestly temple class does his own thing down by the riverside; he is a man born into privilege who dresses like a hippie; he is a superstar who is willing to let go of everything, creating his own water baptism and then saying what really matters is the baptism of ‘Spirit and fire’(24).”
John was a voice crying out in the wilderness, making sure everyone who crossed his path knew--there would be no more ‘business as usual’. Things were about to change, in ways people could not even imagine--even though other prophets, like Isaiah, foretold both the work of John the Baptist, and the very coming of God incarnate as a child.
So, who are the prophet’s today?Who are God’s messengers today? What are they calling us to do? What are we resisting letting go of in our sinfulness? In our choice to put our desires before God’s will?
There are many prophets in the world, but the first one that came to mind for me was Presiding Bishop Michael Currey, the head of the Episcopal Church. When he became our leader a year and a half ago, he woke up our church. And as we talked about last week, powerful things happen when we wake up to God. At the heart of Bishop Curry's message is the way he lifts up our calling as the Church, as the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement, to transform the world from the nightmare it is to so many into the dream God created it to be. That’s hearty work before us, yet it is the transformative, life changing work of the Gospel that Jesus calls us to. And when we lift this up as our standard, it makes it pretty clear for us to see what work is before us, and what things we need to let go of.
And remember, it’s not that we need to let go of our desires, plans, and hopes by throwing them in the garbage. No, instead we need to lay them at the feet of the Christ child in the manger, and we pray that not our will be done, but God’s will be done. When we show this willingness, this faithfulness, it brings us closer than ever into the heartbeat of God.
This Advent, I would invite you to consider who are God’s messengers, God’s prophets, today? What are they calling us to do? Even better, who are the prophets, God’s messengers, amongst us--right here in our midst at Saint James [or your community]? What are they saying to us? What warnings must we heed in order to truly find reconciliation and healing with God? How might listening to the prophets amongst us allow us to better greet the Christ child in the manger this Advent? Amen.
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