A wild-eyed prophet preaches repentance out on the edge of town. His cry is for justice, his cry is for mercy, and with every baptism he builds a road through the desert for the Saviour to come.
And when he talks to tax collectors, he doesn’t tell them to eat the right things, he demands they stop taking more money than they should, that they stop getting rich through the poverty of others.
And when he speaks to soldiers, he doesn’t send them to the synagogue. He insists they stop extorting money from those under their power, he insists they cease their false accusations against the public they patrol.
When he meets the general public, fishermen and carpenters and farmers and shepherds he tells them to look after each other, to make sure no-one is left in need while someone has the resources to help them.
And when he confronted kings, demanding that they end their immorality, well, that’s what got him killed.
John the Baptist lived in the wilderness, he wore animal skins and ate locusts, yet even out there on the fringes, he knew what was happening back in town and he spoke into it. And yes, he proclaimed the coming Messiah, but in the meantime he railed against injustice because he lived in the light of a different Kingdom, and in that Kingdom, justice can’t be separated from faith. In that Kingdom, the prophetic is practical, the prophetic is proactive.
There are tensions in society right now: protesters on the streets in Ferguson, in the UK, in New York, in Thailand, in Hong Kong. And, true, there’s a lot of white nose in these protests, but there are also urgent questions that demand answers, questions about race and class and democracy and justice, and if a cry for justice is rising up, then now’s the time to listen out for prophetic voices, voices that speak God’s word into agonising situations. We need to listen for these voices, to hear their call, even when those speaking don’t look or sound like us, even when they challenge us and our tenuous assumptions. Because they’ll be a call to repentance in there somewhere, and a call to do things better, but don’t hold your breath waiting for God to prop up an unjust status quo.
We live in interesting times, and there are a million voices out there, most of them ranting on Twitter. But now’s the time to cut through that. Listen for the voices that don’t get much airtime. Listen for the voice of Christ cutting through the static. Listen for the voice of the prophets and, where you can, turn that prophecy into practice.