Second Tuesday in Advent
December 6, 2011
Then Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to King Jeroboam of Israel, saying, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, ‘Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.’” And Amaziah said to Amos, “O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” Then Amos answered Amaziah, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ (Amos 7:10-15)
The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts; so I am helped, and my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever. (Psalm 28:7-9)
King Jeroboam did not want to hear the prophetic words that Amos was speaking, and understandably so. Amos said that the king would die violently and the people of Israel would be hauled off into exile. So, in hearing these disturbing words, rather than change his ways and turn himself and the nation to the Lord, he told Amos to head south to the southern kingdom of Judah. Maybe he figured that what he couldn’t hear wouldn’t hurt him. He was wrong.
For his part, Amos confessed that he was not an expert at the prophetic role, but was just a humble working man. It was the Lord who had called him out and gave him this difficult assignment, and he obeyed. Amos wasn’t seeking power or notoriety; he was only responding to the call of God for that moment in time. While his word was good, the hearers did not hear.
Prophets who challenge the status quo are rarely heard. Just after the massive financial collapse of 2008, it was discovered that a number of economically-savvy people had warned about this disaster. If nations (particularly the US) didn’t act responsibly, then calamity would surely follow. Apparently no one who could facilitate change listened to the warnings, and the collapse came as predicted.
In the events surrounding the birth of Jesus we see the same kind of dynamics at work. Israel had long awaited her Messiah and prophets had told of his coming. Visiting astrologers from Persia came in search of the Messiah, and king Herod recognized that the time had come when his kingship would be exposed for the sham that it was. So he responded as quickly as he could with a violent act of infanticide. If you can’t hush up the prophetic words, then murder just might do the trick. Herod was also wrong.
The ones who remain in hope, however, continue to look to the Lord. They know better than to bank on the machinations of the dominant ones in power. Instead, they speak out their confidence in God: “O save your people, and bless your heritage; be their shepherd, and carry them forever.”