For Sunday, December 6, 2015, 2nd Sunday of Advent
John the Baptist is one of the towering figures in the Advent drama. Following in the tradition of the prophets, he closes out the Old Testament and heralds the New with his cry: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.”
While our popular culture understands a prophet to be someone who predicts the future, the Bible presents the prophet as one who speaks the word of God by interpreting the signs of the time, often making us uncomfortable in the process.
Are there still prophets in our day? Are there still figures in our culture who speak a word to challenge our presuppositions and make us squirm?
Let me suggest a few persons who, while not prophets themselves, might help us to understand how they might have been perceived by the people of their day.
The first would be Kim Davis, the county clerk in Kentucky who refused to sign marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Her long, straggly hair might already give us an idea of the impression John the Baptist would have made in his camel hair garments. Because of her four marriages, her stand for traditional marriage has been criticized as hypocritical. However, Jesus chose the Samaritan woman to evangelize the people of Sychar even though she had been married five times and was living with a man who was not her husband. In the prophetic tradition, God chooses those whom the world considers weak and foolish to shame those who self-righteously assert that they are on “the right side of history” and who would judge anyone who disagrees with them to be “bigots.”
A second controversial figure is Donald Trump. His ongoing popularity despite making the most outrageous statements bewilders pundits and strategists alike. Journalists who are used to hobbling presidential campaigns by repeating a candidate’s unwise or untimely turns of phrase are at a loss to explain his appeal. Because of his power to draw viewers, no amount of protests can keep him off talk shows, news programs, or even late night comedy shows. No matter how we may judge his rhetoric or fear his populist demagoguery, there is no doubt that he has struck a nerve. Voters have grown tired of the measured phrases and focus-group-tested words commonly used by their politicians. At the same time, they have grown mistrustful of the media whom they judge to be more interested in politicizing events than presenting the facts. All this has combined to make Donald Trump the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination and to make the political establishment very uncomfortable.
And, I would offer a third figure, Bill Maher. This stand-up comedian turned political commentator makes no apologies for his contempt for religious belief. In his movie, Religulous, he claims that all religions are based on myth, are incompatible with science, and lead inevitably to conflict and war. Though his beliefs are based on mischaracterizations of faith and its relationship to reason and ignorance on how most Christians interpret the Bible, he does challenge people of faith who want to contribute to public policy to bring arguments to the debate based on reason and experience and not on faith and the Bible. And he challenges us to make our teaching relevant to a culture that embraces evolution and science as dogmatically as we embrace revelation and theology.
Now, I don’t mean to suggest that every offensive or challenging word is prophetic or that prophets are incapable of comforting us as well. However, prophets were almost without exception all put to death because they unsettled those in authority or disrupted popular practices. We must also be aware that the prophetic word often issues forth from the most unlikely of mouthpieces. To hear God’s word, we must constantly put aside our biases and pay strict attention to those messages and messengers who irritate us. There might just be a word there from God that, if we embrace it, will fill in our valleys and make our crooked ways straight.
Douglas Sousa, STL
In the lonely places
Where we stand forlorn
Windswept and alone
Your voice calls out
Prepare a way for the Lord
In the dark places
Where we hide our fears
Embrace our tears
Your voice calls out
Prepare a way for the Lord
As the rising sun comes to us each dawn
Shine upon those who live in darkness
That all might know the joy of our salvation
The forgiveness of sins
And your great mercy
For the desert places in which we walk
The streets we roam
The paths we cross
Guide our feet
Take us to places
Where you would go
Give us words that you would use
That in this Advent season
Of promise and preparation
We might point the way with John the Baptist
To the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
—Advent prayer taken from www.faithandworship.com/Advent/Advent_John_the_Baptist.htm (Creative Commons License: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).