Throughout the 19th and part of the 20th centuries, before the invention of corrugated fiberboard boxes, manufacturers built sturdy wooden crates to ship their products to retailers. During the decades leading up to World War I, such boxes (absent the product, of course) could often be found on street corners where they became portable platforms for those seeking to be seen and heard. Almost always, the soap-boxers who preached from them sought to convey a certain political or religious message.
Today, imagine if you or I set up such a box in our town and began to preach from it. One of three things would surely happen: (1) A majority would turn their heads and pass us by; (2) Some might call the police and report us as a nuisance; or (3) Others might even taunt us and shout out:
Hey, who do you think you are, some kind of prophet?
This morning, I begin with this story to illustrate the difficulties of being a prophet, but also because during the Sundays of Advent, prophets pave the way. The YouCat (#116) tells us that: “…in the Old covenant, God sought out such men and women to console, lead, and, at times, admonish His people.” In a sense, they were like divine Paul Reveres, alerting everyone to God’s plan and begging them to listen. As such, we should come away with an understanding that the prophets were not just mouthpieces; rather, they were blessings that God placed in the midst of His people. Furthermore, they were blessings because before they spoke, they first listened to God!
Like Isaiah, all the prophets shared his sentiments regarding how God’s people had strayed. And yet, through their listening, they wanted us to know something else as well. That although we stray, we remain part of God’s family. He loves us. As the Prophet Isaiah notes: “Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
Indeed, listening to the Lord can have powerful consequences. It can turn us in a different direction. It can move us from hopelessness to hope. It can unfold for us an entirely different way of looking at things. Ultimately, however, we can only see the Lord’s action in our lives if we are tuned in to His frequency of love that He pours down upon us 24/7. Sometimes, it is the case that He makes Himself known in the simplest of ways: through the smile of another, through a phone call, through a song, through a movie that another has urged us to see, or through a short article sent to us by a friend.
This past week, a friend sent me an article that was published in the December 2014 issue of Faith Magazine, a publication of the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan. It was about how a now permanent deacon, while in formation for the permanent diaconate, found out that he and his wife would enlarge an already large family of seven children with the gift of a special-needs child. When he was told, he recounted how he worried about the future. Who would care for her after he and his wife were gone? Shortly after she was born, he remembers placing his hand over her and pleading with God to heal her. At that very moment, however, he recalled feeling an oppressive spiritual attack from the devil. A few weeks later, while sitting quietly in prayer, he felt as though he had been struck by lightning when a real strong power flowed through his heart. The Lord said to him: “I promise you that you will see my glory in your daughter’s life. And the second thing is this, I’m not going to heal her because she is not the person who is handicapped. The person who is handicapped is you because you’re judging her.” Today, he notes: “When she looks at me, I feel like God is looking at me through her.”
In the Gospel of Mark (13:33-37), Jesus cautions us that we do not know when the time will come. He tells His disciples (and us): “Take heed, watch, and pray…” In doing so, He reminds us of the certainty of the end times and final judgment. His words are action oriented and provide us with powerful images on our journey through Advent to the Christ child in Bethlehem.
His words: “take heed, watch, and pray,” tell us that we should focus intently upon Advent’s promise of Jesus’ coming, arrival, and presence. Yes, Advent is a special time—and it is upon us once again. It is about Jesus’ coming, arrival, and presence. As one author put it: It is anchored in the Incarnation (the past) and the Return of Christ (the future). But more than that, it is an ongoing movement and event. In a most powerful way, yet sadly unnoticed to many, our Lord, working through the Holy Spirit, makes himself known to us in the Eucharist. In giving himself to us, He feeds us with His divine life! Each day, we become more like Him! We are changed!
Through this Advent season (and each day), Jesus tells us to open our ears and eyes and hearts to Him! When we do so, we grow in untold ways. Others even look at us and say: Is that really you? You are different and changed.
And on Christmas morning, God assures us that by our faithfulness, not only will we have found Jesus, but we will have come to know Him in a special way. We will have found Him not atop some soapbox or within some Christmas gift; but rather, through a most magnificent love that pierces our hearts.
A love that only He can give!