Last week I reflected on the prophetic voices we hear in the Old Testament.
Although we believe that many of these words were fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, I closed with the thought that we should also hear the words of the prophets, not just for 2000 years ago, but also for today. As we journey toward Jesus’ birth, this week we meet John; cousin of Jesus and Baptist. By John’s day it was generally reckoned that the last prophetic voice had been Malachi, some 400 years earlier. The gospels give us an image of John, deliberately framed to place him even earlier, in the mould of one of the greats; Elijah (circa 900 BC).
As John’s ministry developed the Jerusalem authorities demanded to see his credentials (John 1: 19 25); a question they would later put to Jesus. It is a familiar question for us all, ‘By whose authority ….?’ From formal qualifications (licences or exams for example) to the credibility granted by ‘media’ presence; we all look for a speaker’s credentials, and judge accordingly. Like Jesus after him (and the prophets before him) he refused to present ‘normal’ or accepted credentials. The implication for me is ‘listen to the message, not the messenger’.
Although each prophet spoke to his own time and place; God’s words are timeless. The recurring themes are loyalty to God and social justice (love God, love your neighbour). John is called to link these ancient messages to his ‘here and now’. In his call to repentance, and his unashamed reference back to past prophets, there is the clear message which Jesus will repeat ‘If you are not willing to listen to Moses and the prophets (what God has already said) you will not listen, even if someone rises from the dead’ (Luke 17:31 – paraphrase).
If we are really looking for God to intervene in the world, and if we really mean it when we repeat the Advent call ‘come Lord Jesus’, then these words of both John and Jesus should also speak to us today. Are we listening to what God has already said, and acting accordingly?
Rev Philip Payne
Pew Sheet for 13 December available in Downloads