To the people who listened to him, John the Baptist offered hope through repentance for their sins as they were baptized in the Jordan River. He was accepted as a prophet by those who suffered the most. And he was seen as an enemy by the power brokers of his day. What might it look like if we listen to the prophets of our time, who offer us hope instead of fear?
Since we call ourselves a eucharistic people, we should listen to prophets drawing us into unity, not those trying to separate us. We ought to listen to the prophets who encourage us to live in the present, not out of fear of the future or regret from the past. The prophets God gives us will certainly have a challenging message that will lead us to greater life and union with one another, not division and destruction.
The prophet Isaiah offers a plan. Even though his message is thousands of years old, we can hear his pleading for comfort and direction. He gives us specific instructions that have to do with straightening crooked roads and filling in dangerous valleys. He asks us to give glory to God, even when we face these difficult situations that he expresses in terms of rocky terrain and very difficult and high mountains.
Look around the circumstances of your life and those who share your neighborhood, church and city. There are plenty of places where we envision rugged
terrain ahead of us. There may even be some ongoing, difficult relationships within your family that almost seem impossible to heal. There are some divisions within our Church that, if allowed to fester, will create seemingly permanent division. If we try to imagine what it would look like to have peace in the world, we might be quickly discouraged. How can we use the anticipation of Advent to bring hope in the present moment? We can understand how when we listen to the wisdom of Jesus and the prophets.
The first step is to acknowledge that we control only one life — ours and ours alone. Instead of blaming society or someone else, it is time for each of us to take responsibility for our lives and all our choices.
The second step is to pay attention to the least among us. Attention is meant to be life-giving, not separating. We are not to stand in judgment of the lonely among us, but we are to serve them as if they were Christ Himself. Any diversion from that truth will lead to divisiveness, destruction and hopelessness.
Being prophetic and responsible for our lives and serving the least among us are very difficult if we only hang around those who think as we do, act as we do and have made the same judgments. Take this time to wander outside your comfort zone, especially as you place yourself in situations where you might encounter the least among us. Not only will we help others, but we will also acknowledge Christ’s real presence among us in all of our brothers and sisters.
Father Donald Wester is pastor of All Saints Parish in St. Peters.