Prophets are never popular people. They are not people to sit with at a dinner or a party. The Old Testament prophets spoke of a return to God. When God’s people wander away from their true calling, and forget the plight of others, they become aimless and empty, and their souls are not fed. Only God can satisfy the hungry soul, and so Gods prophets cry in the emptiness and chaos, because in their hearts is a dream which refuses to die. We need these people today, to turn us back, to care for those who cannot afford to feed themselves, who are suffering fuel poverty or who are elderly, disabled and vulnerable. Gods agenda is not that of uncaring consumer captitalism! We have a different dream, like the prophets, like Mandela.
The message of hope runs like a golden thread through the story of Gods people like a drama, Gods drama. Hope after a storm, hope of deliverance. The hope of the rainbow and the ark; the hope of the Israelites in Egypt; the hope for a king, the hope of deliverance from Babylon and finally the hope of the Messiah, the one who will come to deliver the people. Deliverance is a sub-text, the hidden agenda. Malachi speaks of a messenger who will prepare for the coming of the Christ, a prophet who will deliver the people, make the way straight.
After four hundred years of silence, God speaks through a new prophet; he proclaims the coming of the long-awaited kingdom, and calls upon the people to repent, to turn away from what is wrong and back to God.
John begins his prophetic ministry in the wilderness. The wild man of the gospels. Matthew uses version of Mark's "the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the gospel." Repentance involves a turning around both in will and action. It is not just feeling sorry or turning from doing wrong, but also a turning toward God for forgiveness. The coming kingdom, that John speaks of is a spiritual reality made real on earth. John's coming fulfills scripture as the one of whom Isaiah spoke. His food and clothing reminds us of Elijah the Old Testament prophet. People hearing John’s preaching were encouraged to express their repentance outwardly in baptism being immersed in the river. John the Baptist was someone who was set aside to speak truth into a society that had lost its way. He would turn people back to God and restore families. Hope to the Hopeless! John speaks of the coming Messiah as a judge. He will separate the "chaff" from the "wheat", he will separate the goats from the sheep. So, now is the day to repent, to be sorry, to turn and be saved.
This Christmas there is no hope in noisy shopping rituals. This is not the real essence of the Christ/mass. We need to feel the brush of angels wings and the whispers of hope during this Advent, this waiting time. Johns message challenges us to live lives according to gospel values rather than those of the consumer society that surrounds us. God given hope is not optimism, or sentimentality, based on ignorance or naivite. It is putting our house in order and trusting in a God who brings light into darkness. In order to do this I need quiet reflection away from the madness of the media. Maybe you do too. Putting our lives in order is not something done overnight. We begin with a resolve and take one small step each day. Its a journey, maybe for weeks, years, a lifetime but it starts with a resolve and one step. We need good companions to help us, wise counsellors because this is a journey to wholeness and others on an individual and societal level benefit from us not changing, from the status quo-but if we are to experience this shalom in our own lives and build heaven on earth we have to change, slowly, determinedly.
The Christmas festival is symbolised by light, a light shining in darkness and the coming of hope. The story of the coming of Christ is a vehicle, a carrier of hope for us all to feed our spirits and our imaginations. We like the church throughout the world are waiting for the coming Christ from a deadness. Growth can change not just us but others around us and our world.
Today as we mourn Mandela's death his personal journey inspires us and shows us what that journey is like. Its costly and the end is far removed from the beginning and it takes inner ironwill resolve and a step in the right direction.
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
10 On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” 3This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” 4Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit worthy of repentance. 9Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 10Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”