Today at Mass we hear from three prophets.
A prophet, of course, 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. So it is good we have Advent and the prophets to help us see what we need to see.
We hear about three prophets today. The first is the prophet Elijah, and we heard of him in today’s first reading. His words were strong ones that zealously shepherded the Israelites through temptation and evil. His prophecy was confirmed by mighty deeds, right up until the time he was take up in a whirlwind. He was believed to be returning one day, and even up to the present day at major Jewish feasts, families will leave an empty place setting at the table for Elijah. Jesus tells us that the return of Elijah was in the person of Saint John the Baptist, and he is the second prophet we hear about today, in the Gospel reading.
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 who 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. Elijah 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 Elijah, 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.