04 December 2005

We ought to be prophets!

2nd Sunday of Advent (2005): Is 40.1-5, 9-11; 2 Pet 3.8-14; Mark 1.1-8
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
Church of the Incarnation, University of Dallas

Here comes with power the Lord God! Do not fear but cry out: “Here is your God!” Cry out at the top of your voice, “Good News! Prepare the way of the Lord!” Straighten the road in the wasteland. Fill in every valley. Make every mountain and hill low. And then, and then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed. He is patient with us, wishing that we should come to repentance and not perish. But He is coming to judge, and He will come, stealing back into history like a thief quietly stealing into a house. And when he does, the heavens will pass away in thunder, the elements will melt in fire, and “the earth and everything done on it will be found out.” Since the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and the heavens and the earth shall be dissolved at His coming, what sort of persons ought we to be? (Repeat)

Advent is a penitential season. And it is a season of rejoicing. We turn out our sins and expose them to the Lord’s fierce grace, and we rejoice at the promise of His coming. We take stock of the time we’ve spent so far, and we offer to God for blessing the time we have left. Repent and rejoice. Convert and sing praise. Confess and follow righteousness. Prepare His way in your heart, your mind, your body and your soul. Lay a clear path to the center of your covenant with Him, open the gates of your reason for His light, make a gift of your flesh for His works of compassion and your soul an offering of immortal praise. Now, now is the time for searching faults and finding mercy, for opening wounds and finding health. Now is the time to straighten your path to God. “Here comes with power the Lord God!”

And so, what sort of person ought you, ought we to be? This is the perfect question for Advent because it is a question that requires us to think in terms of who we ARE and how we ought to ACT. It is a question that requires us to think about how we balance on an edge and walk tightly the line between being good and doing good. In his letter, Peter, asks his readers what sort of persons they should be given the coming of the Lord and then immediately elaborates on the question by adding, “…conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…” Who we ARE goes hand in hand with how we ACT. For the beloved of the Lord, being good and doing good are inextricably bound together in the Lord’s promise of a new heavens and a new earth. We wait and prepare and repent. We cultivate holiness and practice devotion. And like John the Baptist, we cry out in the desert of wherever we are: “Get ready! He’s on His way!” In other words, we ought to be prophets.

As the One Who Comes Before the Christ, John the Baptizer appears out of the desert preaching repentance. As the prophet Isaiah says, he is the messenger sent ahead, a voice from the desert urging those who heard his cry to “prepare the way of the Lord.” This made John a prophet, a herald. He’s the guy who showed up first, told the truth about Who and What was coming, and offered those who heard a chance to get themselves straight with God before the fires caught and before the winnowing wind began to blow. He was an alarm ringing in Jerusalem, calling everyone away from sin and toward righteousness.

John wasn’t just about serving up the doom and gloom of The End. He offered more than a prediction and sharp tongue. John made it possible in his preaching for those listening to begin a better way to God, to start over with the Father and bear good fruit. He offered a baptism of water to wash away confessed sins. And he offered a vision of the straightened path to the Father: the good fruits of repentance will show that you are ready for the coming of the Lord AND make you a prophet, a herald of Christ’s Coming. Yes, we ought to be prophets, but are we ready to be prophets?

It is not enough that we acknowledge our sins, wash in the baptismal waters, and come spotless to God. Our acknowledgement of sin, our willingness to be found without blemish, must produce good fruit. Being good in theory builds lovely temples in the air. Doing good for show makes good theatre. But airy temples blow away and the curtain falls on even the best theatre! Living our lives as a prophetic witnesses, now that’s the sort of folks we ought to be!

What does it mean for us to be prophetic? It doesn’t mean putting on camel hair shirts and eating locusts and honey. It doesn’t mean standing on the street screaming fire and God’s wrath. It doesn’t even mean being particularly pious or holy if by “pious” and “holy” we mean being outwardly righteous for show.
Nor does being prophetic mean taking all the right political positions, protesting all the wrong ones, signing petitions, and marching around with wearing little buttons and issuing self-important statements. This too can be as empty as false piety.

So, what does being prophetic mean? Let’s look at John. He comes out of the desert, a desolate place, a place devoid of life. He finds his voice there. Outside family, friends, culture, and civilization, John finds a voice to proclaim the Coming Christ. He doesn’t use this voice to promote himself. He speaks of Another. He doesn’t prepare the way for his own celebrity. He celebrates Christ. He doesn’t try to make his own life easier by claiming some sort of divine connection. He makes the paths straight for the Lord. He doesn’t try to “fit in” or blend in or “inculturate.” He preaches against the cultural grain, against the prevailing ethic. He is not concerned about being comfortable with his role or finding satisfaction in his ministry or being a team player. His is a lonely voice. He does not coddle the legalists or the revolutionaries, the lawyers or the trendy academics. He calls them to repentance and a life of good fruits. He points again and again to Christ, the mightier One, the One Who Comes to baptize in the Spirit. Always pointing toward Christ, always toward Jesus. And that is what a prophet does.

Absolutely, we ought to be prophets. We are ready to be a prophets if we will acknowledge our sin. Repent. Turn around. Face God. Produce good fruit first and then expect it from others. Live waiting on the Lord, at peace; and proclaim with every word, every act: “Prepare! Christ is coming”


  1. Anonymous9:53 PM

    Father, I just discovered your blog because of your post on Jimmy Akin's site. I had heard that UD had a new chaplin, I guess you are he! My husband is a student there, but we haven't been to Mass on campus since the summer. (We do attend Mass, just elsewhere.) Now I want to go just to hear your homilies!

  2. Please visit us! I preside at the 7:30pm Sunday Mass and at the 5:00pm Friday. This next Sunday (12/11) is the last 7:30pm Mass at UD until the spring semester begins. This Friday (12/9)is the last Friday 5:00pm Mass.

    Y'all come!

  3. Anonymous2:23 PM

    I know this is a few days late, but I wanted to let you know that I was able to make it to last Friday's Mass. I was the one with the baby who started fussing in the middle of the consecration, if you remember, which you may not since it was almost a week ago.