Advent: "The Prophets and the Press"

The Revd Margaret Legg

Statute or freedom?

In the wake of the Leveson Enquiry and now the death of Jacintha Saldanha, one of the nursing staff caught up in the hoax phone call to the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge has been staying, which side are you on in the debate over a free press? Muzzle them with statute backed regulation – they are clearly no use at regulating themselves or freedom, freedom, freedom – it’s one of the lynch pins of a democratic free society.

Pure and blameless lives

It’s important because our views and lifestyles are so often shaped by what we read and hear in the media. And Paul in our epistle urges us to prepare for the return of Christ by living pure and blameless lives. By that I mean pure in our motives, which will translate into our deeds and thoughts, and blameless in a moral steadiness, truthfulness and honesty. This is part of our Christmas preparation, Advent being a time of double preparation: to celebrate the first coming of Christ at the first Christmas and also preparing for Christ’s second coming, bringing salvation for the whole creation that is putting right all that is amiss.

The prophets help us

The second of our Advent candles on the ring was lit today for the prophets, who were in many ways the equivalent of the press in the centuries before Christ, when there were no newspapers.  I suggest that it is by comparing the prophets with the press that we can pick up some vital clues as to how we can shape our lives to be pure and blameless, ready to meet Christ when he comes again.


Both press and prophets are concerned with truth. The prophets’ role was to speak out when people and society generally were straying from the paths of truth, for instance disobeying the commandments. Back in the10th century BC the prophet Nathan denounced King David for the murder of Uriah, a humble and innocent Israelite, purely because he fancied the poor man’s wife; he had broken the commandment ‘thou shalt not murder’. Malachi, in today’s OT reading, prophesying in early 5th century BC, blows the whistle on the way the regulations for sacrifices were being broken. Sacrificial animals were to be perfect, yet priests were accepting imperfect ones, while the people were deceiving the priests by bringing stolen and sick animals. These offerings were in no way pleasing to the Lord.

Now the press also play a valuable role in exposing lies and cover-ups: remember Watergate which brought about the downfall of President Nixon? That scandal was exposed because of the efforts of two reporters on the Washington Post. Then there’s MP’s expenses, tax evasion by big companies...

But how do they get their information? Sometimes their sources are dubious. It was the hacking of the murdered teenager Millie Dowler’s phone that began the process that led to the Leveson Enquiry; accusations of corruption have been rife.

The prophets however get their information from God – by that I mean that they have been specifically chosen by God to be his mouthpieces, and as such they have particular insight into the mind and purposes of God. Their message is true because their source is true. This morning’s passage from Malachi begins ‘Thus says the Lord God’ and sure enough, the messenger he says will come pops up in our gospel – he is none other than John the Baptist, the last of the OT prophets.

And our lives – how can they grow in purity and blamelessness, in truth. Well, who/what are our sources? How do we find things out; who do we have lunch with? How careful are we to keep confidential information confidential, to ignore gossip? At work, do we pride ourselves on offering and delivering a top class service, rather than sliding down the slippery road of the 2nd best, denounced by Malachi.

Uscha and Philippe, you have a blank canvas with Lucas. It’s wonderful but also quite a responsibility. The way his life will be shaped is to a large extent down to you!! Lucas will look to you to model truthfulness and honesty. Children tend to be our strongest critics, so watch out if you are not practising what you preach.  And it’s alright not to be the favourite parent of the moment sometimes! So when you have to tell Lucas what he doesn’t want to hear – no more chocolate, time for bed, and when he’s older and homework has to be done but he’s glued to an electronic device, or when he is a teenager and reluctant to get up in the morning, remember that unlike the press, who need to be popular and increase circulation and make money, the OT prophets were often hugely unpopular because they spoke out to warn and to say what people didn’t necessarily want to hear. And remember too that it’s all part of shaping our lives to be pure and blameless, ready to meet Christ when he comes again.