|I am your message, God. Throw me like a blazing torch into the night, so that all may see and understand.
-Mother Maria Skobtsova, Eastern Orthodox monastic
As you reflect on your own spiritual journey, who were the people who guided you along the way? Who informed that journey, shining light on your path? Asked another way, who have been God’s messengers in your life?
The prayer we heard yesterday in church, printed in the column on the left, speaks of the ministry of messengers. It makes the point that God uses people (like us) to speak the truth, to hold folks accountable, to share good news. In the same way that St. Francis prayed to be an instrument or a channel of God’s peace, the prophets were used by God to help people think about the direction in which they were headed.
In this season, we hear a lot about John the Baptist, whose whole ministry was summed up in the call to prepare the way. He brings new meaning to the word eccentric. If he walked into one of our churches, we’d probably call security before we paid any attention to his message. But he is remembered as one who pointed beyond himself to Christ, bringing the message of a new day. In Advent, we also hear from the prophet Isaiah who centuries earlier brought words of challenge and possibility. There are a whole bunch of other messengers in the Bible that prepare the way for Jesus.
But those prophets, those messengers, are not just a thing of the past. Throughout the history of the church, up until our present time, we’ve been blessed by those we call prophets. We’re not talking about people who gaze into crystal balls and predict the future, as intriguing as they may be. We have in mind those people who fulfill a prophetic function, a ministry of analyzing the present. The word propheteia in Greek means the interpreting of the will of the gods. That’s something we all could use, in all seasons.
Last Friday night, I had the privilege of hearing a contemporary prophet, Sister Joan Chittister, who reminded the congregation that religion is not a spiritual jacuzzi. In her timely book, THE TIME IS NOW, she asks these good questions: What does the prophetic tradition, the prophetic dimension of the spiritual life, have to do with us? How will it affect our lives? What will it mean to our own development and spiritual authenticity? What are the gifts that come to those who hold the Word of God up to the injustice of our own time?
To those questions, I’d add: What’s the message? Like many other prophets of the scriptures, John the Baptist called on people to repent. That word suggests both direction and movement. As Pope Francis said, there’s no such thing as a stationary Christian. The prophets come to us to tell us when we might wittingly or unwittingly be headed in the wrong direction. It is no act of kindness to let someone keep doing that. When John the Baptist called people to repent, he was really telling them to turn around, to head towards that place where they could find grace. His harsh rhetoric may have been the ultimate kindness.
Advent is a season to think about where we might need course correction. Ask yourself in the quiet of this season: “In what direction am I headed? Are the things that I value helping me get there?” Give thanks for the messengers in your life who help you take a look at such things.
And then consider the possibility that God might be calling you to be a messenger, to help others think about the direction they are headed, and maybe to point them in the direction of Jesus, who comes to us full of grace and truth. (We need both those things.) We can be that messenger by what we say and what we do, with our lips and with our lives, as we offer ourselves to God’s work in the world. How might you do that this week?