Who are prophets? We don’t really think about them much today unless we are a Christian, a Muslim or a Jew. The Old Testament prophets were people who were outside the establishment. They were not kings or rulers or priests. But it is their words we often hear read in churches throughout the world at this time of Advent. (Advent just means The Coming). Prophets were the wise and disturbing people who spoke truth into a situation and foretold the future.
How long do you have to wait for things to change? In the case of the Jews, Christians and Muslims, hundreds of years. The prophets spoke of a time when people would not be led by rules, but by God living in their hearts. A time when someone from a poor place in the north of no consequence would be born and grow up to lead people out of darkness into light.
In my family there was sadly no light at Christmas, no hope things would get better. I was born into a family were God did not exist and Christmas was largely a non- event. Until I started praying at 14. Praying for my father to stop drinking and stop shouting at my mum. You couldn’t reason with him. So I started praying. Often you either pray or you go mad. You split off because reality is too bad to cope with. Who taught me to pray? The Sunday school I attended briefly? The school I attended (The school attached to the Vicar of Dibley’s church)? I don’t know. But I started praying. (Piaget)
Like the prophets I wanted things to change and the seed of another way of being was sown in my imagination. I somehow knew things could be different and better.
Maybe you have been the prophet in your family, maybe you are today. The one who prays, who speaks out, who wants things to change and sees a better way of being. Its not easy because you are going against the grain and people don’t like being challenged or like change.
But back to the prophets. The prophets had two jobs. The first was to be critical of the establishment. When the king and his entourage said everything is fine, just trust me, the prophets would be critical. They would point the finger at the lifestyle of the kings and their immorality and injustice. They would condemn them. Woe to you they would say. You will bring judgement on your house and the house of your nation.
And religion, well the priests and the temple were corrupt. It had become corrupted by money and power
So the other job of a prophet was to sow the seed of a different way of being. Prophets were not in the pay of the establishment so they said it as it was. And yes they were persecuted for doing that.
Isaiah was prophesying to a people in captivity-in Babylon and he speaks comfort to them because they were distressed as any captive people would be Is 40v1-5. He was speaking of comfort to a people who had lost hope. But they were Gods people and God would deliver them and return them to Jerusalem. So we have in Is 40v4-5, “Every valley shall be exalted and the rough places made plain, and all flesh shall see it together” Big stuff! All flesh! He was either right or he was crazy!
But there were also predictions of someone who would lead the people out of darkness into light. And they spoke of a chosen one, someone anointed by God, that’s what Messiah means. V11 “He shall lead his sheep like a shepherd”.
But this would take hundreds of years. This was a promise!
And it happened. As with all great wisdom literature it has depth, is true and it comes to pass. An elderly priest Zechariah was going about his duties in the temple in Jerusalem some hundreds of years later when an angel comes to visit him to tell him his wife is pregnant. And because he doesn’t believe the angel, he is stuck dumb until the baby is born. That baby was of course? And so the promise begins to unfold.
So today we with millions of people throughout the world are remembering that Jesus came to lead us out of darkness into light. To give us hope of a new way of being. God took on flesh and was born as a baby to live like us and lead us to a better way of being.
So as we come to vote yet again in another election, do not trust the politicians and the media who say trust us everything will be fine! Research which of the candidates you are voting for, which politicians care for their wives and children and have a track record of fighting injustice. Not just the party leaders, but the candidate in your constituency and vote for the best of them.
This Advent, this waiting time, try to step back from the hustle and bustle of your busy lives and consciously take time to listen to God. When you do, you may weep as you experience Gods presence, you may feel a sense of wonder, you may feel your spirit rise within you and imagine new possibilities. You may start to pray. Hope may return.
As I turn the corner into December the first, I feel a profound sense of gratitude, I weep and I feel a tingle of expectation that God is at work around me and within me. Can you feel it too? I really hope so. As someone said “It’s better than doing drugs!” And it’s much safer! It’s the best Christmas present ever!