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Fr. Joseph Clayton Neiman
an Episcopal priest
  In Paw Paw, MI   







To whom do you listen?

To whom do you listen? I am not asking about your taste in music or the news broadcasts, but to whom do you listen when you are seriously seeking to make sense out of your life, particularly about the future? Who speaks the truth for you?


We are presented this weekend with two prophets, Isaiah and John the Baptist. Matthew tells us Jesus considered John a great prophet. "Truly I tell you, among those born of women, now one has arisen greater than John the Baptistů.(Mt 11:11)"  We also hear that marvelous little verse from Mark: "Let anyone with ears, listen" (Mk 4:2).

Let's look for a moment at Isaiah, at John, and then see the implications of these two prophets for our lives this December.


The Dictionary tells us a prophet is "a teacher or interpreter of the supposed will of God, especially any of the Old Testament or Hebrew prophets." It also says a prophet is "a person who foretells future events" (Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus 1996).


Isaiah is clearly an interpreter of the will of God and one who foretold future events. He is in fact one of the greatest prophets in all of recorded history, and clearly the favorite of the New Testament evangelists who quote him more frequently than any other prophet or author of the Hebrew Scriptures (or Old Testament as we call the books). Almost every title we give to Jesus, such as Emmanuel, Prince of Peace, King of Kings, and such come from the writings of Isaiah.


Little is known about Isaiah, except what we can see in the Book which bears his name. He was clearly well educated and in a position to enter the royal courts of the Kingdom of David as all the evidence from both the Book of Isaiah and the other references in the Old Testament attest. He may have been a priest.

As noted in the first chapter of the book, he was the son of someone named Amoz and lived in the eighth century before Christ in Jerusalem under the rule of four kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He was married and gave his children symbolic names, performed what were called miracles, prophesied - as did others - through symbolic actions, and proclamations.


The Book of Isaiah is divided into five sections of approximately the same length, each beginning with an attack on the arrogance of his people, with an appeal for justice, and ending with a prophecy or vision of the impact of faithful living not only for his people but for the whole of creation as well. Parts of the book speak of events not in the 8th century, but much later during the Exile in Babylon and the subsequent return to rebuild Jerusalem. Thus the book contains not only the words and deeds of the prophet, Isaiah, but also those of his disciples who acted and spoke in his name.


When I say that, I mean Isaiah did not have a vision of future events, as we popularly understand that phrase. Isaiah spoke of a descendant of David who would rule his people with justice, of a virgin who would bear a son who would be called Immanuel. A disciple of Isaiah during the Exile spoke of a suffering servant who would bear the sins of his people and make intercession for their transgressors. But Isaiah did not envision Mary. Isaiah did not envision Jesus. He did not envision the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ and his exaltation as the Lord of heaven and earth "so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Phil 2:10), as Paul describes in the Letter to the Phillipians.