During the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
When I was a kid, I used to love to watch Mork and Mindy – a sitcom that gave the world Robin Williams.
The show, that aired on ABC, followed the life of an extraterrestrial who was learning how to live on Earth with the help of his human roommate, Mindy.
As the entertainment critic for the Washington Post, Tom Shales described the show as nothing more than “one moronic yuck after another.” But he noted how he loved to watch Williams - who often went off script and improvise his lines.
The real laughs of the show came from watching the cast trying to keep up with his manic energy. This was considered groundbreaking back then. Many considered Robin Williams a comedic genius.
And he will be remembered as a pioneer whose stretched the boundaries of our imaginations. He is but one in a long line of pioneers that have challenged, changed, and transformed the way we do things.
With all the advances in medicine and technology the world is not lacking in pioneers to lead us into the future.
But can the same be said about the prophets we meet during advent?
Like the pioneers who push the limits, prophets are people who challenge our perspective, make us uncomfortable, and change us in the process. While we need people like this in our life, there just isn’t that many prophets showing up these days.
The last prophet I can remember was on Mork and Mindy. His name was Exidor – a whacky “street prophet” who always tried to convince Mork the end of the world was near. Whenever I think about the biblical prophets it’s hard for me to not picture a crazy-eyed Exidor doing whatever it took to keep up with Robin Williams.
Which brings us to John the Baptist – the prophet Rachel Held Evans once described as, “that crazy guy you go out of your way to avoid in the Walmart parking lot.” As wild and crazy as he is often portrayed, John’s pioneering vision and prophetic words still grab our attention today.
But unless they’re on a sitcom, I can’t say prophets are always fun to be around. Biblical prophets, especially, like to point out our flaws...and demand we do more for the poor and downtrodden. It seems like all they say is repent and be righteous, help the widows and orphans, seek justice and don’t do bad things. It’s no surprise people go out of their way to avoid them.
John the Baptist was different. People came to him. We might think of him today as both a prophet and a pioneer. The son of a temple priest, John left his rightful place in the church for the wilderness. He abandoned the ceremonial purification pools of the Temple for the wild, flowing waters of the Jordan River. Part rebel, part unpredictable wild man John broke the barriers of religion and ritual to pave the way for the coming Messiah.
John the pioneer knew the walls and rituals of the Temple could no longer contain God’s movement. So John the prophet cried out in the wilderness, “Repent. God’s on the move. Everything’s about to change.” No longer was God sitting around waiting for us to visit. God was coming to us. So, we better be prepared.
Like any good prophet, John called us to “Repent, turn away from sin and return to God’s loving arms.” And in doing so, John the pioneer, ushered in a new relationship between God and humanity. He knew that “God’s relentless love would not allow a mountain or hill, an ideology or ritual to get in the way of God’s salvation.” If you listen carefully you can still hear his voice echo in the wilds of life.
Repent. Come clean. And come home.
We need prophets and pioneers like John whose message “breaks into our world with deafening silence and shatters the dark of despair with the light of love.” We need prophets like John, Isaiah, and Jeremiah to tell God’s salvation “to a world longing for hope and love in their lives.” They are the pioneers who will lead us into a future where no one will lack or have a need for more.
We need to tune our ears better and listen to what they have to say, because their words matter. Their words matter to those who have no voice, no rights, no hope. Their words matter to the people who sit in darkness and despair. Their words matter to all who suffer from having made poor life choices or squandered any opportunity to make it right. To anyone who doesn’t feel worthy enough, or good enough, or simply enough to be redeemed in God’s love John is calling out you.
Repent. Come clean and come home.
I know that these words can be hard to hear, or understand. For many, the word repent can seem judgmental... making you feel ashamed and filled with guilt. But repentance isn’t a punishment. It’s the opposite. It’s the good news of God’s redeeming love and grace that frees us of our sin and shame. Repentance empties us of our world, and fills us with God’s unconditional love.
John is inviting you to turn around, and walk away from you’re doing and return to what God is doing, and has always been doing since the beginning of time. The world needs prophets like John to remind us that God’s got this. God is our strength and our hope that gets us through the wilderness of life.
I think it’s safe to say our communities, and nation, and world need more prophetic and pioneering voices. And that’s where we come in. As Christ followers, it’s up to us to share the good news – to go into the wilderness and be the voice of the voiceless, the hope of the hopeless, the love of the loveless.
Advent is not just a time to wait for Christ to come again, it’s a time to actively participate in the reason he came in the first place.
So, my challenge to you is simply this: Are you willing to be a prophet?
Are you willing to walk out in faith and love people where they are, without judgment or making them feel ashamed or less than? Are you willing to show the world what it means to hold on to real hope, to experience real love, and to forgive even the unforgivable?
Advent is a time to live out your faith in new and groundbreaking ways, so people might see Christ in their midst, right here and right now. And so Advent is a time to profess and practice the good news that has come and will come again.
We are given this time of wait to tune our ears to the crying voices in the wilderness. And to go be among them and help them to prepare their way home. The world needs more prophets and pioneers because the world needs more hope...and more love. The kind of love God has given to us through Christ Jesus.
We light the second Advent candle this week to remind us that as we prepare ourselves to meet the Christ, who has come and will come again, God’s love is and has always been with us. As we watch the flame flicker, we are reminded that God’s love is always in our midst, moving through the wind of the wilderness and flowing in the water of the wild, raging rivers. It is the fire of the Holy Spirit, calling us to Repent. Come clean. And come home.
Anderson, T. Denise. "Living by the Word." Christian Century 132, no. 24 (Nov 2015).
Charles, Gary. Feasting on the Word: Advent Companion. Edited by David Barlett, & Kimberly Bracken Long Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014.
Johnson, Deon. "Who Needs A Prophet Anyway?" episcopaldigitalnetwork.com. 12 3, 2018. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2018/11/06/who-needs-a-prophet-advent-2-c-december-9-2018/ (accessed 12 5, 2018).
Roberie, Joshua. Relevent Magazine. Nov 17, 2015. http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/when-god-leaves-you-waiting (accessed Nov 25, 2015).