Advent: Born to Set the People Free

Zechariah 13:1-9

On that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity.

On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will cut off the names of the idols from the land, so that they shall be remembered no more; and also I will remove from the land the prophets and the unclean spirit. And if any prophets appear again, their fathers and mothers who bore them will say to them, ‘You shall not live, for you speak lies in the name of the Lord’; and their fathers and their mothers who bore them shall pierce them through when they prophesy. On that day the prophets will be ashamed, every one, of their visions when they prophesy; they will not put on a hairy mantle in order to deceive, but each of them will say, ‘I am no prophet, I am a tiller of the soil; for the land has been my possession since my youth.’ And if anyone asks them, ‘What are these wounds on your chest?’ the answer will be ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’

The Shepherd Struck, the Flock Scattered

‘Awake, O sword, against my shepherd,
against the man who is my associate,’

says the Lord of hosts.
Strike the shepherd, that the sheep may be scattered;
I will turn my hand against the little ones.
In the whole land, says the Lord,
two-thirds shall be cut off and perish,
and one-third shall be left alive.
And I will put this third into the fire,
refine them as one refines silver,
and test them as gold is tested.
They will call on my name,
and I will answer them.
I will say, ‘They are my people’;
and they will say, ‘The Lord is our God.’

Zechariah envisions that idols, even the names of the idols, will be long forgotten. Future generations won’t even know what to call them. I surprise myself sometimes when my first response is that I can’t even imagine such a life without our idols. We are so far from that vision, our roots far too deep underground. That all the false prophets would vanish? I wish. The scarcity mentality is too deep. And yet, maybe I need to ask myself whether I really wish these things, or if I’m so steeped in my anxiety I’ve started believing it gives me some measure of comfort. Too often, even the idea of trying to dream of that world is a drain of time and energy. 

And yet, a prophet’s job is to shock me out of my norms, sometimes even my ideals. The prophet invites me to feel as deeply as he does. The prophet will evoke every tactic not just to recognize that feeling but to linger and taste my emotions. It’s not easy work to sit here and struggle with the prophet- not just to feel the misery and the startling shock of the imagery, the hard that I would also rather avoid. There is also an invitation to feel what it means to have hope. Real, genuine hope. The vision of the kingdom is alive and bustling, can’t even recall the longings it used to crave. And I am invited to live as if it was already real and present.  

I’ve been ruminating on prophet Ruby Sales’ recent words: “We are taught to perform feelings rather than feel because a feeling people are dangerous to the ruling elite and their power.” What happens in me if I feel alongside a prophet?  What newness comes when I reject my numbing responses and see what it is they are protecting?  What questions do I need to help me lean into liberation from my dreams laced with scarcity? I want my realities around me to change, but am I willing to change? I am lingering with the questions. I pray I am willing to imagine something so potentially beautiful and join in proclaiming that world into reality  I hope to sit long enough to discover what else is possible when I unlock my imagination sitting next to a prophet. 


Amy Shorner-Johnson

Amy Shorner-Johnson is Chaplain and Director of Spiritual and Religious Life at Elizabethtown College. She is also a trained spiritual director and local interfaith leader in her community, as well as a parent and spouse to beloved family. Currently, she is also taking voice lessons to remember both how to breathe and use her voice.