We need to do things differently.
The second candle on our Advent wreath
reminds us of the Prophets.
But what is a Prophet?
My dictionary offers two definitions:
- Someone who speaks by divine inspiration;
- Someone who predicts the future.
That second definition is probably the one that we usually
think of when we hear ‘prophet’ or ‘prophecy’,
and it is part of the sense in which we mean
‘Prophet’ in the church.
But the first definition: someone speaking from G*d,
is more accurate.
It’s also more.
Biblically — that is to say from our Jewish cultural heritage —
a Prophet doesn’t only (and probably not even primarily)
foretell the future.
No, a Prophet also tells forth (“forthtells”)
G*d’s message to G*d’s people.
In the Jewish scriptures, the Prophets are (alas)
mostly men of some standing
(but they mostly, thanks to their prophecies,
stand a little on the edge of society).
They were constantly, consistently there
telling their people that they were failing to listen to G*d —
that they had been told time and again
how G*d expected them to be,
and they were always missing the point.
They said to their people, “we need to do things differently.”
In the Gospel reading we just heard, John the Baptist
(the third candle; more about him next week!)
speaks out in 1st Century Palestine.
(Brief explanation of the Temple sacrifice rituals and Levitical priesthood.)
He talks about a new way of relating with G*d and
dealing with things they got wrong.
He speaks the words of the Prophet Isaiah, promising that
all people (not just the chosen people) will know G*d.
He foretold and forthtold the coming of Jesus.
Jesus wasn’t just a Prophet.
Jesus was a different way of doing things.
G*d had sent so many Prophets already.
The Jewish people of his time had started to expect G*d
would send a strong military leader.
That was how they’d come to see the Messiah.
He would overthrow their oppressors
with violent insurrection.
He would emerge victorious.
He would be a new David:
a mighty — and independent — King of the Jews.
In a tiny baby, G*d showed a way of doing things differently:
G*d G*dself became human.
G*d came as a baby.
G*d came as a refugee.
G*d came as the son of a teenage mother
and an itinerant odd-jobs man.
We need to do things differently.
Who were our prophets this week?
I think I’m right in saying that very many of us were engaged
with the big public debate this week.
(At college, on facebook, on twitter…)
It certainly seemed that way to me.
I can remember the other recent times we have
gone to a new war in the Middle East.
This time felt a little different, I think.
Maybe more people have become more open.
Maybe we’re learning from our past actions.
Bombing Syria is doing things the way we always have.
Recent history shows the disastrous effects — the scars —
of the way we’ve been doing things.
Jesus’ people’s history showed them the disastrous effects
of the way they’d been doing things.
Their Prophets kept reminding them
how they could do things differently.
This week, I believe we have seen glimpses of ways
we could do things differently.
Perhaps we have even heard Prophets.
We look at that second candle lit.
I wonder what the Prophets of Israel would
have said this week.
Would it be the same as the Prophets of These Isles said?
Would it be the same as they always said to their people?
“You have forgotten that we all belong to G*d.
You have forgotten that all G*d wants is šālōm —
peace, not just the absence of war, but the
mutual thriving, wholeness, wellbeing and health —
We forget that that is why G*d came among us.
But that’s another story. Wait for it.
Dan Barnes-Davies, 5 December 2015
Given at the Church of the Good Shepherd on 6 December 2015