Today’s gospel reminds us to listen for the prophetic voice in the world. It also reminds us of the call to repent from sin and turn to righteousness in preparation for the coming of the Lord. These themes are as relevant to our times as they ever have been or will be. Who are the prophets of our times? Do we recognize them as such and are we able to hear their voices?
In the first reading from Isaiah the prophet speaks of a radical leveling where all things are made even and equal: every valley filled in and every mountain and hill made low. The letter of Peter, which sounds a lot like St. Paul with the exception of the portion we hear today, speaks with no less force than Isaiah of the day of the Lord when the heavens pass away with a mighty roar, and the elements melt with intense fire. Truly the image is one that inspires nothing less than dread.
Now, there are a lot of folks who would have us believe that we should take the prophecies we heard today literally, along with many others. However, I’ve given it a great deal of thought; I’ve analyzed it and I’ve and put some serious study effort into the matter, and I believe that we miss the point when we take such biblical narratives as literal things that are going to happen. Oh, no doubt there will be earth-shaking events that take place during in our lifetimes—there have been those that have happened already, and many that we have witnessed in our lifetimes—there will be others and we will surely stand in wonder and awe, but still there’s a greater reality and a more immediate relevance if we understand the deeper symbolic truth being communicated.
Often we hear Advent prophecies and we put them off into the far distant future to a time we call “kingdom come.” Too often we believe that what matters most—at least in terms of faith and religion—is beyond this world and this life. It’s like this life and this world doesn’t really matter all that much and that our focus ought to be on heaven alone. I don’t think that’s the case really. This world has lasting value and it’s worth putting effort into it.
In Psalm 89 we are told that truth will spring out of the earth and justice will look down from heaven. While the verse—without a doubt—speaks to Christians of the incarnation of Jesus born two millennia ago, it also has to do with our birthing of justice right now in our world today.
It is the justice of God, complete with its peace and righteousness, fulfilled entirely in the utterance of truth, which levels the land flat. It is the lifting of those whose lives know oppression and injustice that is the great equalizer. It is taking the part of the poor little ones of Jesus’ favor that fills the valleys. God chooses to eradicate not the earth, but rather the world of injustices and unfairness.
Our times demand that we address something specific and particular to what our world is going through right now, that we speak to injustices taking place in our own streets. It would be a miscarriage of justice to speak of it and not to name it. It is the tradition of Christian peacemaking that makes this place the right place to say what must be said. We hear the voices that cry out but do we choose to listen? Can we actually hear them ourselves? Are we able to believe what they say to us if we do hear them by chance?
We must listen to those who tell us they are oppressed. We cannot turn a deaf ear or walk away in disbelief from those who cry for justice. Rather the times call on us to look deeply and see our own sin against justice and truth. Sure I’ve got my list of sins. We all do, but what is the greater sin that we commit? The voices of the prophets are crying out in our own streets today. They say, “Black lives matter.” However, we turn away, we step back from them, we distance ourselves and reply “…but all lives matter.” We refuse to hear. We refuse to say it with them. Indeed if we believe that every human being is a creation of God, then we too must say, “Black lives matter.”
St. Peter tells us of a new heavens and a new earth. These must be one born of truth, righteousness, peace and justice. It’s the justice of John the Baptist. It’s the Justice of Jesus, and it’s the justice of the voices crying in the streets that we must embrace in the here and now.