Sermon Advent 2: The Prophets 8 Dec 2013, @leedsminster

Here is a sermon I preached on placement at Leeds Minster at Choral Evensong on the second Sunday of Advent 2013.

1 Kings 18:17-39; John 1: 19-28

Advent is for many of us a lost season in the church calendar. It is set aside as a season for waiting and hoping, for meditating on the coming again of Christ. And yet we live in a society where the concept of delayed gratification is a quaint one – something we used to do, but not any more now that we can buy something with the click of a mouse one day and have it appear on our doorstep the next. Advent for the city dweller is a season of busyness and noise. Apparently, people that live in cities are exposed to over 3000 advertising images a day. Take a walk from here to the Trinity centre and your senses will be overloaded by signs in shop windows, blinking Christmas lights and even advertisements that move, screaming for your attention. Which message does your brain focus on? What is going to grab your attention?


This is the second Sunday of Advent, when we focus on the prophets. We had two wonderful readings that are all about the question ‘what is a true prophet?’ The story of the prophet Elijah versus the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel presents to us the great battle in which we are always struggling. Whose voice do we listen to? Who is the true God, the true Lord of our lives?


A true prophet is a clear signpost. A true prophet points to God, not themselves, as the source of life.


In the showdown on Mount Carmel there is a tremendous difference between the false prophets of Baal and the true prophet Elijah. The prophets of Baal are characterised by their great number – 450 of them versus Elijah – imagine this church full at the carol concert. They are characterised by their ungainly limping around, by their violent noise and shouting at their god and of course by their over dramatic cutting of themselves. The prophets of Baal all focus on themselves: ‘I’m making the most noise, I’m bleeding the most for the cause, god, look at me, look what I’m doing for you’.


Elijah in contrast focuses on the LORD. He builds an altar that is a reminder that his God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob using twelve stones for the twelve tribes of Israel. He reminds himself of who he is and who his God is. He then asks others to pour water on the altar 3 times, all the time he is directing attention away from himself and onto the LORD God. He puts beyond all doubt any sense that what is happening has anything to do with him as a prophet – he steps aside and God’s fire rains down and consumes all – through no effort of his own. No noise, no shouting at God, no cutting of himself. It’s not about him, it’s about the power of his God, Yahweh.


A true prophet is a clear signpost. A true prophet points to God, not themselves, as the source of life.





It is not a surprise then that the Pharisees wonder if John the Baptist is Elijah returned! John is always pointing to Christ, his Lord. There is a famous painting called the Isenheim altar piece by Grünewald that depicts, rather unusually, John the Baptist standing next to the cross at calvary and pointing with a long bony finger to Jesus. This is John’s constant posture as a prophet, he points to Christ.


There is a big difference between an advertisement and a sign. Our road signs in Britain are written in lower case lettering. This is because it takes the brain longer to process words written in capital letters. And of course, we all know now that if you use capital letters in an email or a social media update it is perceived as shouting. Some signs are too cluttered for you to be able to process as you drive past. As we drive around this city we have to be alert to read the signs that will help us to find our destination – we have to filter out the noisy, shouting adverts for the clear sign to take us home.


A true prophet is a clear signpost. A true prophet points to God, not themselves, as the source of life.


We need to be the clear sign post that points to Christ. How often are we more like the noisy adverts that point more to ourselves? I need to ask myself, does my sign say ‘look at me’ or does it say ‘look at Him?’


The false prophets, the prophets of Baal, are like the blinking, shouting advertisements that bombard us during this Advent season. They say ‘look at me’, ‘buy me’, ‘you need me’. The true prophets of Elijah and John the Baptist are like a clear road sign that makes our road straight, our way through the wilderness clear, that points us home, that home we long for in this season of Advent, our true home when Christ comes again and there will be no more tears, no more suffering, and God’s light will shine forever.


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