Some years ago the following notice appeared in the window of a coat store in Nottingham:
“We have been established for over 100 years and have been pleasing and displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered national disasters, rationing, government control, and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, robbed, and swindled. The only reason we keep going is to see what happens next.”
It is perhaps all too easy for us in the UK to feel a little bit like that coat store in Nottingham, especially in light of the journey we are taking at the moment towards a General Election. The question that seems to be on many people’s lips is indeed “What happens next?” I acknowledge that the outcome of this election is significant for our country and it’s future and future direction, and I think that we would be wrong to simply try and ignore it and sweep it to one side.
But there’s another journey that we are on which has been one that God’s people have been travelling on for millennia. It’s on that journey that God raises up the people that we traditionally remember today on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, and that’s the prophets. In an age of post-truth and uncertainty, the Church arguably needs prophets more than ever before, and I think it can be really helpful for us to think about what prophets do.
I wonder what image we have in our minds when we think of a prophet and the role that they fulfilled? When God’s people wandered off the path, and when they turned their backs on Him and tried to go their own way, as they so often did, God raised up a prophet to come along to pronounce challenge and judgement. The prophet who is the easiest for us to picture is John the Baptist, dressed in camel hair with a leather belt around his waist living off locusts and wild honey! We read in today’s Gospel that immediately prior to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist was proclaiming what St Luke called a ‘baptism of repentance.’ Like so many of the prophets before him, John was preparing the people for what would happen next, and Matthew’s Gospel tells us that he said to the crowds that came to be baptized by him, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” and “Prepare the way for the LORD, make straight paths for him.” (Matthew 3:2-3).
John’s message centred on repentance and preparing for the the kingdom of heaven. The word repent means ‘to change one’s mind and act on that change’, there’s that turning away from sin. John was not satisfied with regret or remorse; he wanted “fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8). There had to be evidence of a changed mind and a changed life.
So it seems clear that one thing a prophet does is to help God’s people to get back on track; to get right in their relationship with God. That might involve a nation, or a group of people, being called into repentance. We learn from the prophets that so much of our faith journey involves preparation, making ready, inviting God to help us to put our spiritual house in order. Some of the other things that prophets do include:
- Speaking God’s heart
- Challenging and encouraging us
- Bringing a message of hope
- Pointing us towards our eternal destination
- Reminding us how God is in control
- Being catalysts for change for the good in society
We repent, prepare the way, and make ready because of what happens next. We can be reminded of that in this season of Advent. As Christians, we know an honoured guest is coming…someone who we want to give the most precious of gifts to – and of course the guest is Jesus, the Saviour of all the world, the King of Glory.
As we engage with the Bible through Advent which may also be a season of uncertainty for this nation, it’s great to think that because of “the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.” On this journey we can be mindful of the message the prophets shared, and prepare a place in our hearts for Jesus and seek to have the mind of Christ “so that with one mind and one voice we may glorify the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ.”
We live in an age when people really are looking for answers, though it often seems that they are looking in all the wrong places and there is a restlessness, dissatisfaction and lack of fulfilment. But in reading about all of the prophets in the Bible who did keep their eyes on God, those who did not waver, the true prophets, one thing seems particularly clear to me…there is a clear trajectory in the message that they bring, like a HUGE neon sign pointing to Christ. It is a sign that points to our salvation and one that glorifies God. It is a message of hope. And we need people today who nurture a deep faith, people of humility and personal integrity who speak God’s truth with real prophetic insight into society and culture today. I think in the body of Christ, the church, we are all called to be people like this and to be salt and light in our communities and not afraid or ashamed of the hope that we profess.We are in that season of Advent…that time of waiting, expectation and hope. People and Governments may come and go, but God never fails – for His Word endures forever. So may you be filled with expectation, and in this advent season roll out the red carpet for God and know his comfort and his peace. But may you also know that whenever you speak out words of truth – the Good News – yes, it may bring challenge, but it can also bring reassurance and hope. Amen