QUESTION: During this past Advent, I read some of the Old Testament prophets. I could not help but be struck by the descriptions of the world in which they lived. These prophets speak of infidelity, lack of concern for others, violence, and ineffective kings and princes. How is our world that different from theirs?
ANSWER: The prophets of the Old Testament lived and preached in a truly challenging period in the life of the people of Israel. The ninth to the sixth centuries B.C. were times of growth and prosperity and defeat and exile. Often enough, the people were unmindful of the covenant and the commands of the Lord and had accepted the customs of other nations even to the point of worshiping foreign gods.
Through it all, God sent the prophets as messengers to warn the people of their evil ways and to provide a means of return to the Lord, their God. The voice of the prophets seemed to be of no avail. God then permitted other nations to conquer Israelís northern and southern kingdoms, and many were led into exile. Even this punishment did not seem to shake the people into obedience to the Lord.
In all of this, many of the prophets began to understand that only a unique intervention of the Lord would be able to rescue the people.
Throughout all of this, each prophet speaks of the door of Godís mercy being open to those who can see the light and change their hearts. In addition and especially, almost every prophet speaks of what God is prepared to do for the people. The prophets envision a promise that will be fulfilled in order to bring people out of darkness into light. There is an almost constant hope for a future redeemer who will bring them back. Many of the prophets looked toward that day when the Lord would somehow dramatically enter into the life of the people.
Thus, when we begin to compare the time of the Old Testament prophets with our own we need to see the similarities as well as one incredibly significant difference.
True enough, we share with the people of the prophetís time a violence that appears to intrude on our lives increasingly. We see people ignore Godís commandments and even claim that no one can really say what is right or wrong. We also see people who appear to ignore those in need around them.
However, no matter what similarities we want to draw, the glaring difference between our time and that of the prophets is Christ. Each prophet could only provide a future hope, a glimpse of what was foretold. Each prophet tried to rally the people to walk into the future prepared to meet the Lordís anointed. We walk in a hope grounded in the fulfillment of those visions. The Incarnation brought the Lord into the midst of the people. Jesus Christ suffered, died, rose and was glorified as the fulfillment of the words of the prophets. We are a people who no longer walk in darkness but those who have seen and stand in a wonderful light.
Father Bober is pastor of St. Kilian Parish in Adams and Cranberry townships.