Saturday, December 6, 2014

Heeding the Call of the Prophets at Advent Two

The gospel reading for this Sunday starts, "The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

In our ears today, when we hear the phrase, "Good News," it can produce a feeling of relief, of warmth, of being comfortable with what we are about to receive from the teller of this news. But then the next lines come as a distant refrain from the prophet Isaiah:

‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
   who will prepare your way; 
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
   “Prepare the way of the Lord,
   make his paths straight” ’, 

Is that "good news"? The voice of the one crying out in the wilderness is John the Baptizer, a locust and honey-eating counterculturalist who has wandered into the scene calling for the people to be baptized in repentence for the forgiveness of sins. Is that "good news"? Imagine if today, we were faced with a person who "ain't from 'round here" telling us to look at ourselves, see the ways in which we are broken from our connections to our neighbor, and choose to change and move toward Love? How receptive would we be to this news?

Many priests and preachers are wrestling with this Scripture as they craft their sermons to be delivered to a congregation of people who may or may not want to hear what they have to say. Quite often, the one preaching is that person who is the messenger being sent ahead to give the people the "Good News," in the hopes that there will be a response to that news. Today, many of those same priests and preachers are likely looking at our current state of affairs in this country and wondering, "What do I say?" One person on Facebook who is facing such a situation asked the question, "Where are the prophets today?" I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people are staring into the screens of their computers and laptops wondering the same thing. I did, too, as I went about formulating this post. In my staring, praying, and meditations, I kept coming back to another gospel passage which we won't typically encounter until we're deeper into Lent:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)

I kept thinking about the question of "Where are the prophets?" I believe that we are killing them. The prophets aren't the heroes or the beautiful people. Frequently, they are the average workers, the stutterers, and the ones who are the least likely to be seen as a "leader." They are reluctant participants in God's overall plan, and yet they trust enough to follow. Today, I think they are the ones who are doing what they can to keep body and soul together in this world. They're the ones saying, "I can't breathe" "I don't have a gun. Stop shooting!" and their deaths are raising up the voices of new prophets who are taking to the streets, tape over their mouths in some cases, or lying down in the major intersection of a city. They are calling us to take a good, long look at our systems, and how they are skewed and how some of us benefit while others are left to wonder if they are worth anything at all to anyone. I doubt that Eric Garner, or Michael Brown, or any of the others shot and killed by police would call themselves "prophets."  But what their deaths have done is raise some important prophetic questions for us to wrestle with and highlight the need for a new approach and better training of our police officers. For me, as a white person, it has forced me to consider that for my black brothers and sisters, not even the courts are a place where they feel safe and will receive a fair shake. Not even a videotape of what happened was enough to bring a grand jury indictment so we could have a trial in the death of Eric Garner. The non-indictment of the officer who used an illegal chokehold in his death was so upsetting to me that I felt the same sense of grief and horror that I felt when I saw the images of people stranded in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Upon hearing the news out of New York, all I could do was reach out to one of my black friends, and cry, and repeat, "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." 

We need to listen to the call of these new prophets. We must be willing to repent and return to Love by committing to real change. This is what John the Baptizer was telling the people of First Century Palestine as he warned them of a one who was coming, and this is the drumbeat we are are hearing now.

 Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to
preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our
Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy
Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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