When the Prophets Fall Silent
The day of the Lord carries with it some moments that are hard to swallow. One of those among the many that cause our palms to sweat and our mouths to go dry, aside from plagues and wars (and rumors of wars), is the silencing of the prophets. The eruptive poetry of these figures serves as both guide to God's will for the people and as a barometer of what is happening between God and the people on any given day. We hear, unvarnished, where things stand with God. Are we good? Are we not so good? The prophets present truth, whether we want to hear it or not and with that truth comes word of God's judgment. With that judgment? Consolation or desolation, all dependent upon the prophet's message.
We don't always want a prophet in our midst, and frankly having known a few that lack of desire is understandable. They mirror back reality to us as God sees it. Our personal illusions, certainties and suppositions aside, they peel down the layers to show us the substance beneath our institutional and personal constructions. Not always a fun process, as we are not always adept as God at seeing the truth about us in our daily practices.
But when those prophets fall silent. When they turn from their calling and don't broadcast God's word and will to us, well...what then? We might have pined for some quiet, some shelter from God's revealing word. When that word goes away, it is like the calm before a storm. It's that dreaded quiet we remember after the fact, the stillness before chaos breaks out against order. When the prophets fall silent, we realize that as uncomfortable as it can be in their presence, their presence reminds us that God continues to be intimately invested in our lives. When they are silent, it is like we are adrift and apart from knowing God as our center. That is not a good feeling.
When Jesus' earthly ministry begins, it is in the wake of that prophetic silence described in Zechariah. The word of God has been scarce in the land for generation. Odd one-offs like John the Baptist have had their day, but the visibility and impact of prophecy has become dimmed, more present in memory than in the now in which people were dwelling. Jesus' arrival in town after his sojourn in the wilderness must have been, for a moment, exhilarating. Here is one who speaks, teaches and acts with authority! He is SO "old school!" Perhaps, just perhaps, could this be one of THOSE moments when a prophet arises among the people!?! How exciting that it might happen here!
And then, as it often does, reality sets in: Really? Joseph's boy? HIM!?! I remember when he was just a baby...when he was a boy running around with the others in the dust. HIM!?! And then he speaks, and the hard edge of the prophetic word strikes the ears of people who are not accustomed to the unfiltered truth of God's love. It feels like judgment and condemnation. Worse, it feels like derision and dismissal. "HOW DARE HE!!!"
Yet, he does dare.
After facing temptation in the desert, all of Jesus' filters are not just lowered. They are OFF. Truth flows from him like the power that heals and restores. Truth hits us like the cleansing fire that cauters wounds left by demon-hands that have raked our souls for years. Truth raises us up from our pain and illness and gives us restoration of health. Truth provokes us, drawing us away from hearth and home and into the desert once again to hear the deeper truths.
So, what do you prefer? The silence of the prophets? It is quiet. We do go unchallenged, and yet the storm is brewing just out of sight. Perhaps, then, we can look forward to when the storm does break, when the day of the Lord does dawn...for then God's word is before us. We have to deal with it, face it, learn from it, and find correction in it. Not easy at all, but preferable, I believe, to the silence. Much better than silence.