The prophetic tradition is about truth-telling, radical criticism, lament, imagined alternative, energising communities, penetrating despair. The first task of the prophet is to be the voice in the wilderness or to give voice for those in the wilderness. In Rochdale in 2005 one group being left to starve in the wilderness are those who came seeking a welcome, asylum and are disbelieved and left destitute.
Yesterday, I heard the story of one such refugee from DR Congo. He came to UK 5 years ago, asylum was refused in December 2002 and then he finds himself in limbo - NASS benefits withdrawn, Sec 4 hardship unavailable unless voluntary return agreed to, not allowed to work - left destitute, homeless, rootless. This is one story among many and has led Church Action on Poverty to begin a campaign called Living Ghosts. (http://www.church-poverty.org.uk)
As part of this campaign the following letter (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,59-1901530_1,00.htmltimes) to The Times called on a change in Governmet Policy towards unsuccessful asylum seekers.
“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God” begins Mark. And in the pages that follow we see Jesus working with the poor, the marginalised, the broken hearted, the downtrodden, He feeds the hungry - physically and spiritually. We have just sung
The kingdom of God
is mercy and grace,
The lepers are cleansed
The sinners find place
The outcasts are welcomed
God’s banquet to share,
And hope is awakened
In place of despair.
Matthew 25 spells out our responsibility towards the hungry, the stranger. Hebrews 13:2 tells us “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some have welcomed angels unawares. At St. Andrew’s we are playing a small part, collecting food for our friends from New Life Church to distribute - you may wish to support that project. Some of you may want to get involved in the Living Ghosts campaign.
John’s was a voice in the wilderness. He did not come to the people and places of power - he did not have access to the media, to the people who create and influence policy - he came to the wilderness and invited people into the wilderness to hear his voice. It is in the wilderness that we will hear the voice of God, it is in the wilderness that we will hear the cry of the poor, the destitute, the broken hearted, those who lament the past and the present and hope for the future.
The good news of Jesus Christ is that there is hope, that in amongst all the rubbish that is Christmas - there comes a child, the Saviour of the world -Son of Man and Son of God who invites us to follow him into the wilderness, into the broken heart of God, into the kingdom of God - where “They shall never again feel hunger or thirst, the sun shall not beat on them nor any scorching heat, because the Lamb who is at the heart of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to the springs of the water of life; and God will wipe away all tears from their eyes.