This question Jesus asked of the crowds that had gathered around John and then around Him: What did you go out to see? (Luke 7:24-26). It is a good one. Some were obviously drawn to the spectacle of it all -- a wild man appearing suddenly on the scene proclaiming the immanent kingdom of God. Some were there out of yearning for the promise of the prophets and hoped that he might be the One. Some were curious but hesitant, wanting to be in the right place at the right time but not so sure this was it.
Jesus Himself addresses some of it. A reed shaken in the wind... A messenger swayed by the press of public opinion or what was "in" at the moment -- no, that was not John. A man dressed in soft clothing? A prosperity prophet showing you how to get all you wanted out of life -- no, that was not John. A prophet? Now that was John -- the messenger of the Most High whose voice cried in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord.
Unless I am severely mistaken, these Advent words are well appropriate to the Church today. Instead of a clear voice speaking truth, many Christian voices have become echos of what people are saying, of what is the current buzz, of what is on the cutting edge, of what is "in" and relevant. These voices have indeed forsaken the very purpose for which Jesus founded His Church and have ceased to be messengers of the Lord who prepare His way. We are well reminded that the Church belongs to the Lord, that we stand as messengers of the Lord are to speak God's truth even when unpopular or unwelcome.
Instead of exposing the false hopes of a Utopian world, too many within the veil of Christianity have exchanged the tomorrow of God's heavenly gift for a beefed up version of today. Their words speak about the things we can do to make this world better (that is, how we can have more, feel better about it, and fulfill our desires for pleasure and happiness) but they do not speak much of the new world that Jesus has promised and in which Jesus is even now preparing our place. These voices think that if you make a difference today you have done all that God has bidden you to do. We are well reminded that love and compassion that we show today is in view of and because of the perfect future that awaits us in eternity -- we dare not confuse them or equate them or choose between them.
A prophet... now that is the role that so many within the Church delight in being, the role of the Church that many desire more than all others. But it seems that they have forgotten that the prophet in Scripture is not a predictor of the future or the creator of that future but the spokesman for God who speaks God's future and God's time. We speak of the Lord who had entered our world through His incarnation, who stays here full of grace and mercy through the Word and Sacraments (the means of His presence), all so that we are fully prepared to receive Him when He comes to end today and begin the eternal tomorrow that was always His plan and purpose. We are well reminded that if we are to be the prophetic voices of Christ in our own age and time, it is not because we can predict what will happen or glimpse tomorrow through some crystal ball, it is because we see God's future through the Word of Christ and proclaim this to people who do not know what God has prepared for those who love Him and who await His appearing. This means not doom and gloom but forgiveness to the contrite, healing to the wounded, purpose to the aimless, hope to the despairing, and life to the dying. This message is not just "no" (that this too must be spoken) but is mostly about God's "yes" to us and to our needs and lives crying out for answer and redemption.
Every now and then it would not be so bad if the people asked themselves the same question: What did I come here to see?