Today at Mass we hear from three prophets. A prophet is a person who helps us to see God. And during Advent these prophets help us to see God coming to be born in us.
And we have to admit: lots of times we don’t see God. We’re either too busy to notice God, or too wrapped up in ourselves to care about God, or just completely disinterested in the whole notion of God. Sometimes we just don’t want to see God because we would rather be doing what we want to do and not what’s best for ourselves or others. God can see through all of that, and prophets help us to see through it too.
We hear from three prophets today. The first is the prophet Isaiah, and we heard from him in today’s first reading. The people of Israel had turned away from God a whole lot. God often made a new covenant with them, and then after a while, they would lose interest and get distracted and turn away from God all over again. So in today’s reading, Isaiah is trying to wake them up once again. He tells them if they had stayed on the right path, the path God marked out for them when he made a covenant with them, if they had followed his commands, they would have been blessed by good fortune, many descendants, and a rich land and nation that would never have been destroyed. It’s too late for that now, but maybe by seeing what caused their misfortune, they can turn back to God and let him heal them. Which is something God is always longing to do.
The second prophet we hear from today is St. John the Baptist, and we hear about him in today’s Gospel reading. Jesus is frustrated with people of Israel – again! – because just about nothing could get their attention. When John the Baptist went around fasting and staying away from strong drink, the people thought he was weird and couldn’t relate to his message to repent of their sins. But when Jesus came along asking them to repent also, he ate and drank just as they did, so they judged him harshly and wouldn’t listen to him either. They always had an excuse, and of course it was never their fault. Kind of sounds like us sometimes, doesn’t it? Basically, no matter who was calling them to reform their lives and no matter how they proclaimed that message, the people wanted to do what they wanted to do, and nothing was going to persuade them to change.
The third prophet we hear from today is Saint John of the Cross, whose feast we celebrate today. Saint John of the Cross was a Carmelite friar, a kind of monk who was vowed to poverty, chastity and obedience. He was called by God and by his friend, Saint Teresa of Avila, to reform the Carmelite Order. The Carmelites had relaxed some of their rules over time, and had basically turned away from the life that had been envisioned when the Order started. Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila founded a reformed Carmelite Order, and Saint John suffered for it terribly. In those days, religious affairs were all tied up in the government of the nation, and so there was a lot of politics. People didn’t agree with Saint John, so he was taken prisoner for over nine months. Even when he was released, his fellow friars who didn’t agree with him went around to all the monasteries making trouble for him. He was oppressed for his preaching of reform almost until the day he died.
Each of these prophets had been given a message by God. Isaiah and Saint John the Baptist called the people of Israel to turn back to God. Saint John of the Cross called his fellow Carmelites to turn back to the ideals on which their Order was founded. All of them suffered for their witness to the truth. Prophets don’t usually have an easy life. But if we will get past the politics and get over ourselves, we might hear from them a call that leads us back to God who will make us happier than we’ve ever been.
During Advent, we remember that Christ is always near to us, and we remember that we must always turn back to him and let him be born in our hearts once again, stronger than ever. And so during Advent, we hear from the great prophets like Isaiah, John the Baptist, and John of the Cross who are calling us to turn back to God and to prepare a way for Christ in our lives, in our hearts, and in our world.
Today in our Psalm we hear what God is trying to tell us through all these prophets:
Blessed the one who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.
And we will be happy too, if we hear God’s call through the prophets and follow in his ways.