We have done a lot of damage to the words of the Church. Evangelism now conjures up images of firey preachers with megaphones, yelling about the damnation of all who disagree with them. Grace is this cloyingly sweet concept that God’s love for creation means we can do whatever we want, with impunity. Come to think of it, we’ve done similar damage to the first amendment to the United States Constitution, but I digress. Perhaps the most violence beset upon a churchy word in 21st century America has been inflicted upon the word prophet. Both sides, if there is such a thing, have used this word to assert their authority over the other. On the left, there are plenty of self-proclaimed prophets willing to decry everything the Republican Party says and does. On the right, similarly self-proclaimed prophets are quick to get up in arms about whatever bleeding heart liberals might be fighting for. Neither, it would seem, quite have it.
A prophet is never, and can never, be self-proclaimed. God always appoints the prophets because what makes a prophet isn’t opinions or motives or prognostactive ability. What makes a prophet a prophet is that they serve as the mouth piece of God. Sometimes, those words can be harsh. In today’s Daily Office lesson from Amos, we hear God’s word of judgment and subsequent punishment. Other times, the word a prophet is called to bring is a word of comfort and hope. This is the case in the Old Testament Lesson for Advent 2B. After a period of punishment and exile, the time has come for the fortunes of Israel to be restored. God, speaking to the angelic council, allows the prophet to overhear this word of salvation and restoration.
Comfort, O comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and cry to her
that she has served her term,
that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord‘s hand
double for all her sins.
Maybe it is the forty-three weeks of apocalyptic parables we’ve heard of late, but I feel ready for a word of hope; a message of comfort. Perhaps I’m projecting, but I feel like we might all be in need of a prophetic word of consolation.
Every three years, when Isaiah 40 comes around on Advent 2, I’m grateful for its words of comfort and for my friend John Talbert, who took these words, paraphrased in Hymn 67 of our Hymnal, and performed them beautifully. As the week begins, with two funerals headed our way, you’ll find me listening to John’s version of “Comfort, comfort ye my people” on repeat, giving thanks for a prophetic oracle of consolation and hope.