Today on this Gaudete Sunday, the Church anticipates the joy that will be ours in the celebration of the Christmans and Epiphany mysteries. An approach that can evoke this real joy of liberation is to reflect on the role of the prophets in salvation history
The Old Testament, is full of dynamic leaders; Noah and Moses, Abraham, Jacob, Saul and David. There are priests, monarchs, judges and patriarchs. Of all of all the people in the Old Testement, the most dynamic are the prophets: Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and many others. The Bible calls them major and minor prophets due to the lenght of their respective books. They challenged the the way of life at the time, drew people to listen, to be diffrent, to begin again according to the plan of God. A close reading of the prophets reveals that the principles of individal, social and Divine justice were of major concern.
Some prophets were so powerful that they would determine who would reign as King. Some prophets drew the attention of the entire nation as a sign of the way that God's people had treated him. Others spoke directly to the people of God's power, his compassion and his love, like Isaiah in our first reading for today. Some prophets were mystics like Ezekiel. Some were close confidents with the king, counselors like Jeremiah. Others were just common folk, like Amos, a "dresser of trees".
The prophets were all very different yet the content of thir proclamation was the same: repent and reform. Turn back now, quickly, to the Lord God, and the Lord will come. Nothing, not physical pain, torture, death, finincial gain or popularity among the cool people would turn the prophet from his message or tempt him to abandon his faith. In horrible times, the prophet would tell the people, "Hold on to your faith, the world will be transformed by the Lord when he comes."
Their message can be frightening, such as their predictions of the sufferings of the evil at the end of time. These warnings remember are not from the prophet, they are utterances of the Spirit of God. They are not treats but the logical outcome of a society or individual which persists in sins againt justice. Sin has a reward and it is not very pretty. Sometimes their message was consoling, like of the first reading in our Mass,as Isaiah speaks about the desert blooming, the blind seeing and the deaf hearing. But always their message to the people was to be strong in their faith. The people needed to be ready for the Lord's coming.
Up to the time of the Lord Jesus' life, it had been two hundred years since the Jews had a prophet in their midst. Then, St John the Baptist appeared. He was charasmatic, mysterious and compelling. His message wasn't new: he told the people to repent and reform and prepare to meet the Lord. His preaching certainly evoked the prophetic tradition of Israel power yet John brought something more; He said that the Lord is coming now. The Kingdom of God is at hand.
John did not offer people a sugar coated spirituality. He demanded that the people remain faithful to their traditions. He followed Isaiah's first reading for today: "Strengthen the knees that are weak, the hands that are feeble, and say, "Be strong, fear not. Here is your God." John was not one who tried to be trendy and popular with the elites of his day. He was not a reed in the wind, changing the way it leans with every new gust of air, every new whim. John was a rock anchored on his faith in the Lord God. His attractive zeal and faith led people to a strict adherence to their faith. They accepted his baptism as a sign of their participation in a new world order, the Kingdom of God.
But what type of prophet am I searching for? What type of prophecy do I seek? Am I looking for a prophet who is going to tell me to hold on to my faith, change those hidden parts of my life that are self-destructive? We have got to admit it, there is a part of all of us that would love to hear someone tell us that certain of our secrets are now no longer sinful. We'd love to hear someone say, "These are modern times, this or that is OK now, even if it was unacceptable before." We'd love to follow a reed that is bent by the winds of moral decay. But then we would not be listening to a prophet. We would not be listening to the purfying and powerful voice of the Holy Spirit. We would only be hearing our own selfishness.
This Holy Season of Advent therefore bids us reflect on a fundamental choice: do I listen to the Word of God to encounter someone who will encourage me to stand up against the pressures our society places upon me to compromise my conscience and the truth? May the celebration of this Mass strengthen me to be ready, when the Lord to enters my life in the reform of renewal.