When I was up in Canada a couple of weeks ago, I read an article in the Toronto newspaper, The Globe and Mail, bemoaning the fact that so many Canadian college students have so little knowledge of the Bible. College professors up in Canada used to take for granted that their students had a general knowledge about the Bible, that it united them together as a society, that the Bible was a natural part of the general conversation of society. But that is no longer true. The professors can make a comment about the Bible, or there can be symbolism or a storyline in a work of literature that directly connects it to a biblical reference, but nowadays, most students would not pick up on that. I guess this goes to show how often the message that Christianity is trying to get across to our world can get lost in everything else that is going on.
We as Christians hear the voice of John the Baptist each year crying out to us on our Advent journey. Today, his cry comes from the very first verses from the Gospel of Mark. John is the messenger that foreshadows the coming of Jesus into the world. He is in the middle of the desert wilderness, a strange figure wearing clothing made out of camels hair, eating locusts and wild honey. He is telling people to repent, to be baptized in the river Jordan in acknowledgement of their sinful ways. If we met John the Baptist coming down Main Street here in Yazoo City, we would probably label him a crazy person, and we probably wouldn’t listen to his message at all.
Advent is a time of the year that is very different for us, isn’t it? The purple color that characterizes this season tells us that it is a time of repentance, penance, and renewal. And while we hear Christmas carols on the radio already this time of the year, and we see garland and tinsel, Christmas trees and lights all over the place, we don’t see a lot of decorations up yet in our church. You see, as John the Baptist tells us, the journey through Advent is a journey through the desert. It is a stark journey that recalls the very real encounter that the Israelites had with God as they journeyed through the desert to the promised land. The desert is a difficult, forbidding place that recalls the brokenness and the lack of faith that the Israelites had a long their journey. But John the Baptist is not trying to lead us into a place that will cause fear to grow in our hearts, that will break us or destroy us. It’s the opposite. We are being led into the desert as a place of renewal and hope, as a cleansing place where reflection and conversion can take place. As Isaiah tells us, the message that God sends out to us is a message of comfort. We are to be comforted in the midst of our struggles and brokenness.
As I mentioned there are a lot of hollow words and false prophets crying out in our world today. However, God is still here in our land as well, Christ is still alive, the true prophets of God are still trying to get God’s message across. As I mentioned earlier, so much in our society is about self-gratification, enjoyment, and pleasure, of having it right now the way we want it, which is so different from our Advent message of waiting and preparing and expecting. If there are so many in our world who are not getting the message of the prophets, the message of Advent, we need to try to bring the message to them. We need to show the world that we are preparing our hearts, that we are preparing a path to the Lord in the midst of the all the commercialism and buying presents.
And as we listen to the voices of the prophets John the Baptist and Isaiah this morning, we need to listen to the voices of the prophets that God sends to our modern world. I recently stumbled upon an article telling the story of a nun in the country of India named Sister Valsa John. She had been working with a small community in India, where a coal mining company forced the poor off their land, giving them very little compensation in return. The government is so eager to have jobs and income that it gives little heed to rights of the people who are trampled in this process. This sister in fact helped fight for compensation for the poor who were fighting for the rights, but the company failed to adhere to the agreement that was reached. She removed herself from this community for several years due to death threats that were made against her, and when she finally did go to visit this village again, she was beaten and hacked to death by a group of men who invaded the place where she was staying. For me, Sister Valsa John is a true prophet for times, she is someone who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ with her life and her work, making a path for the Lord in our secular world. We need to listen to the prophets that God sends to the world, to heed their call for justice and peace, to practice the values that they teach us in our own lives.
Just how are we making a path for the Lord in our own lives, in the midst of this busy season of preparation? How and we listening to the prophets? And how are we being prophetic ourselves?