As we face this new year, we can be excused if a cynical sneer is all the response we can muster to God’s enthusiastic encouragement offered in Jeremiah and Isaiah. What new thing in the repetitious cycle of crime and inequity, in insecurity and the absence of integrity? Where could we possibly see a ‘new thing’ springing forth?
It is precisely in the hopelessness of exile from a native land grown too corrupt to sustain authentic life, without a centre for worship, for government or for culture that the prophets announce this new intervention of God.
Precisely in the turmoil of colonisation and intrigue and marriages of convenience hastily contrived and as hastily discarded, does this delegation of Wise Men arrive at Herod’s court looking for a new king, causing panic across the nation as fear of another onslaught of savagery from an insecure tyrant desperate to hold onto power grips the nation accustomed to the violence that is the sole security of corrupt ineptitude.
As people of God, the role of the Christian is prophetic. We are called to point out to all around us the presence and the action of God in the world today, so we are not allowed the dubious comfort of cynical withdrawal. We are called and empowered to be able to recognise the voice and acts of God, and commissioned to announce them to people, who, like Herod, may not recognise the Saviour, but who can only be saved by His intervention in their lives.
We have to confess that we have not assumed our prophetic role with any degree of enthusiasm—after all, prophets are not popular and they get killed. So we play it safe and take refuge in prayers and compliant silence or participation when the things of God are being ridiculed or their worth called into question.
We are afraid to say with any degree of conviction that God is with the poor, the refugee, the breadwinner just made redundant, because the god we prefer is with the powerful and his gospel is one of success and acquisition.
The Crucified Christ is worse than uncomfortable, He is downright frightening, asking us to take up our cross and walk in His footsteps in obedience to the will of His Father. But as St John Paul II said, there are some lessons that we learn only from the height of the Cross.
So if we would be true to our prophetic calling, let us take our stand around the cross of Christ, not as tourists, but as pilgrims, not as Sunday Catholics but as convinced Christians who stake their entire lives on the Word of God made one of us and one with us. He has made it clear that the criterion for inclusion in His Kingdom is acceptance of our family bonds with the hungry, the thirsty, the imprisoned and the sick, the illiterate and the uneducated, all the great army of brothers and sisters who require our love to be able to make their way to fuller humanity in our inhospitable societies.
May God give us eyes to be able to see His face.