Have you ever noticed the brilliance of the starlight on a clear night in that last hour or two before the dawn? I have strong memories from childhood, being out with my dad on the bay, clutching the thermos and wondering at the vast night. That last hour of night is a time of great stillness, deep quiet, and subtle beauty. Those memories come to my mind each year as we enter the season of Advent.
This season of Advent is a time of prophecy and spiritual preparation. For ancient pagans, this darkest season of the year was unsettling and frightful. For disciples of Jesus Christ, this time of year is one of light in the darkness. It is the muted subtle light of the stars that shine in the night sky, guiding us on our voyage. Prophecy, like the starlight, needs the quiet, the stillness, the dim vastness of the heavens to give us its light.
The popular imagination thinks of prophecy as a prediction of the future, but this is a distortion and cheapening of its true gift. At its heart, prophecy is the revelation of the purposes and presence of the Living God. Sometimes at great cost to the prophets themselves, their visions and poetic pronouncements offer understanding of the past, insight for the present, and wisdom for the days to come.
The word prophet means one who speaks on behalf of another. More than mere messenger, the prophet communicates something of the Lord who inspires their oracles. At times the message is a warning against sin and injustice. Think of Amos’s denunciations of the hypocrisy and selfishness of the powerful and his summons to link proper worship of God with compassion for neighbor. At other times, the prophets speak words of consolation and hope to those in despair. Think of Isaiah’s ringing tones of hope to a people suffering in exile.
In the prophetic ministry of Jesus himself and in the writings of his apostles such as Peter and Paul, the New Testament re-reads the testimony of the prophets in the light of the revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ. The prophecy spoken to particular moments and communities then unveils truths concerning God’s new and definitive plan for human beings and all creation.
The great Feast of Christmas celebrates the coming of the light of Christ. Our Churches will be filled with lights and color and the joy of the season. It is always tempting for us to hurry towards the feast, but this season of Advent has its grace to be savored as well. In our secular culture, the challenges are even greater with its focus on consumerism. There is too little quiet and little chance to see the beauty of starlight past the glare of the city lights.
Try not to rush towards Christmas. Open the gift that God offers in this season of Advent. Dim the lights of the world and open your eyes and your heart to the starry night. Let the Word of God whisper its truth to your heart. Quiet yourself and know the presence of God beside you. Examine your life, repent your sins, and prepare to receive the one who knows and loves you. “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul!” (Isaiah 61:10)