“The Words of the Prophets Are Written…”   (from Simon and Garfunkel)

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

A small town in upstate NY had four churches – Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic and a United Church of Christ congregation.

All four had a serious problem with squirrels in the church. Each church in its own fashion had a meeting to deal with the problem.

The Presbyterians decided that it was predestined that squirrels be in the church and that they would just have to live with them.

The Methodists decided they should deal with the squirrels lovingly in the style of Charles Wesley. They humanely trapped them and released them. Within 3 days, they were all back in the church.

The Catholics also humanely trapped them and attempted to teach them the “rhythm” method of birth control which, of course, did not work.

The United Church of Christ had the best solution. They voted the squirrels in as members. Now they only see them at Christmas and Easter.

We look forward to seeing the missing squirrels this Christmas, and we celebrate those who are here regularly.

Today, on this first Sunday of Advent, we focus on HOPE as represented in the work of the Prophets.

Prophets are a misunderstood breed.

There is a misconception, strengthened by a faulty understanding of the origin and formation of the Bible stories, that say the prophets predicted the future.

Prophets were not fortune tellers. Yes, they warned consequences, but they did not foresee the future. They understood God’s will—God’s dream for this world and when bad choices were made, either by individuals or a community or a leader of a society, they warned them of the consequences.

So, the first part of a true prophet’s work was to speak the truth of God no matter what the consequences may be.

There was also a second part to the prophets work.

So often people would ignore the prophet’s message and the consequences of these foolish choices often had tragic results. Here the prophet featured again, not to say, “told you so”, but to bring HOPE to those who were experiencing the outcome of foolish decisions. They even began to help organize the rebuilding of shattered lives and property as they demonstrated God’s love in practical ways.

The role of the prophets never diminished through the ages. In Jesus we meet the prophet of all prophets.

His message was the same as his predecessors.

He had a harsh message for those who indulged in practices of injustice.

And the flipside of this was his Good News of redemption—of God’s continuing love and support for those who were broken, lost or who was willing to change their ways.

If we wonder who the modern-day prophets are in this world we will need to tune our spiritual ears and our spiritual vision so we are able to recognize them, for prophets were rarely recognized in their own time and place in history.

Simon and Garfunkel’s song, The Sounds of Silence, comes to mind—

“The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls/And whispered in the sounds of silence”

The words of the prophets are heard every Sunday in worship centers and their words are often delivered in the most unusually flawed ways, just as of old.

The deeds of prophets are seen as they comfort the afflicted whether at Maureen’s Haven or in the make-shift hospitals of a destroyed Syria. They are seen in the grace of an employer taking care of the employees or the nurse bringing comfort to the feverish child.

Yes indeed, sometime “the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls, and tenement halls/And whispered in the sounds of silence.”

Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus, the Apostle Paul, St Francis of Assisi, Gibran, Mother Theresa, and thousands upon thousands of ordinary people, including you and I, are the most unexpected vessels through whom God is still speaking.

May we all recognize this call and respond as the prophet Isaiah once did when he called out;

“The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and release to the prisoners…”

Now, let us embrace this Hope and go do our sacred work as God’s ordained prophets. Amen.