Third Sunday Advent A – 11 December 2016 – What Do You Expect to See and Do?
You may have heard by now that the Oxford Dictionaries have announced the word of the year. It is Post-Truth implying that facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than that which appeals to emotion and personal belief. Benjamin Corey, who studies theology and culture said, “the problem isn’t that people write things that are untrue, but that so many people are quick to believe things that are untrue.”
This is the season for listening to prophecies. Prophets speak what they feel is true and inspired by God. Sometimes we don’t want to hear the truth especially when it calls for making changes in our lives. We are not any different from those Israelites who complained to Isaiah (Is 30:9-10) “Give us some good news for a change.” There is some good news for the people of Judah in the first reading today (Ch 35) — on a Sunday that calls for us to rejoice because God is with us. Isaiah paints a picture of a parched land blossoming with fresh flowers.
And, the prophet also charged that the Israelites would have to be patient, they would have to wait. In the second reading the author strikes a similar chord. Like farmers who plant seeds that take time to produce good vegetables prophets are often models of patience in the midst of hardships. The Christians living in those apostolic times were waiting for the one who would deliver them from all anxieties and fears of oppression. But this would not happen overnight.
Prophecies are not predictions. They do not foretell the future. They point out what is going on in the present. They serve as correctives calling people to get back on a moral pathway. The late Fr. Rich Broderick once wrote, “A prophet calls her community back to authentic relationships with God and each other… she interrupts business as usual.” In this sense, they point out what is true and what is not true. Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie offers her thoughts regarding the untruths voiced by elected officials and the media. “Now is the time to counter lies with facts, repeatedly and unflaggingly, while also proclaiming the greater truths: of our equal humanity, of decency, of compassion.”
Always, we wait for flowers to bloom in a world that is becoming more and more parched. And, next year we will still be singing the same songs, saying the same prayers. Advent focuses on waiting with hope and anticipation precisely because God’s kin-dom on earth is still not in full bloom. The prickly question is this: what are we doing to hasten the day when those people who are blind will see, who are deaf will hear, who are trafficked will be free? The gospel acclamation for today (Is 61:1) reminds us we are anointed by God to bring glad tidings to people who suffer hardships.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, considered by many to be an important modern day prophet, once wrote, “We hold our political allegiances lightly and our theological allegiances dearly. At the same time, we can and should live fully in the world, participating in politics and political life, making the best of it for ourselves and for others, in spite of its inadequacy and ultimate inability to fulfill our needs.”  Knowing that life will never be perfect we, nevertheless, strive to do our best for ourselves and others.
In today’s gospel we find John the baptist in jail. Herod worried that his popularity would cause a rebellion. This passage leaps way beyond last week’s text when John was just introducing Jesus. This section comes after Jesus had already put his team together, preached that famous sermon on the mount, healed many people and sent the apostles out on a mission. The flowers were beginning to blossom and John took delight for the small part he played as a prophet preparing the way for Jesus. Can we?
This forward and backward use of biblical texts provides a lesson for us. If we could look to the future what would we expect to see? And, as we look back what could we say about our role as prophets, not of doom and gloom, but confident, passionate voices, crying for justice and peace.
Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, regularly reminds us of the importance to protect the vulnerable, to speak prophetic truth in the name of social, racial, gender, and environmental justice. Now as never before in our time, America needs that advocacy — honest and prophetic truth-telling. You and I can learn to be prophets who speak and act truthfully in every way possible to make the desert bloom with flowers. After all, we believe that God is already with us so now what do we do?
- From a lecture by Charles Marsh “Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Prophetic Citizenship,” The 14th Annual Prophetic Voices Lecture, University of Virginia, February 12, 2015