Collect Reflections: The Third Sunday in Advent
“O Lord Jesus Christ, you sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant that the ministers and stewards of your mysteries may likewise make ready your way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient toward the wisdom of the just, that at your second coming to judge the world, we may be found a people acceptable in your sight; for with the Father and the Holy Spirit you live and reign, one God, now and for ever. Amen.”
Part of the task of the church in the world is to exercise a prophetic office. In a culture where tolerance seems to be the predominant value and the even slightest intolerance is not tolerated, this means that the church must accept a certain level of distance and scorn from the culture around us. The prophets were hardly popular figures. In the book of Kings, which the Men’s Bible Study has been studying since September of last year, the most common response from the kings of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah to the prophets that God sends is to repress, persecute, and sometimes to kill them. When king Ahab of Israel is introduced into the biblical story, this is how it is done: “And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD, more than all who were before him.” (1 Kings 16:30) And yet, when Ahab meets Elijah, that great prophet of God who confronted Ahab’s sins, without a hint of irony in his mind (it seems), he does so this way: “Is it you, you troubler of Israel?” (1 Kings 18:17). Ahab, one of the most infamously evil kings of the Bible, treats Elijah, the God-commission-and-empowered prophet, as if he is the problem.
As our culture secularizes further and further, I think we can expect more of this kind of reception to the message and ministry of the church. The message we proclaim and the truths refuse to give ground on will become ever stranger to those we are speaking to, perhaps almost unintelligible. And it may even become the case that our culture at large believes that Christianity and its teaching are actually the source of the problem. We know the true source of all our troubles: the rebellion of humanity in our Fall into sin. And yet, we should not be surprised if, without irony on its parts, our culture pulls an Ahab and accuses us of being the real problem here. Such is the power of sin to blind the mind to truth. And yet, we know that only the Gospel, or better, God’s wielding of the Gospel through the church, has the power to dispel the darkness of the mind with the light of the truth of God’s love for the world. And so, we preach. We evangelize. We serve both neighbor and enemy. To strengthen ourselves for this task ahead, we need what the prophets had: God’s Word and God’s Spirit.
The biblical texts that we have received as the prophets have their origin in God revealing a message to a human prophet. The common phrasing in Scripture is “the word of the Lord came to _____”, and this usually begins a passage of God’s speech to his people. These messages were written down and collected and given to us by God himself as part of his Word, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. And God wields those same Scriptures in the lives of believers to speak to us, strengthen us, empower us, and ultimately conform to the image of the Word Himself, the Son, the one to whom the prophetic words point: Jesus Christ. If we are to be the prophetic community God intends the church to be in the world, we must give ourselves to continually hearing and rehearing the Word of God, as the prophets did.
We also need more and more (and more and more and…) of God’s Spirit. Here, Elisha is our guide: “When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” Elijah offers Elisha a chance to ask for anything before he passes on his prophetic mantle, and Elisha asks for more of the Spirit. Today was our Confirmation service at church, wherein the Bishop prayed over our Confirmands that they may “daily increase more and more” in the power of the Spirit. May that be a daily prayer of all of God’s people! God, give us more of your Word. Give us more of your Spirit. Give us more of Yourself. Amen.