Sermon preached the First Sunday of Advent…
click here to listen: There Will Be Signs
In 1971, the obscure Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band released their album Goodbye and Butterflies with a song you may know, even if the band doesn’t ring any bells. The song “Signs” is a rant about billboards obscuring views during a California drive and reflected the bands frustrations and the uncertain times. The song was a smash, hit #3 on the charts and sold over a million and a half copies.
And the sign said “long haired freaky people, need ought apply.” So I tucked my hair up under my hat, and I went in to ask him why. He said “you look like a fine upstanding young man, I think you’ll do.” So I took off my hat, I said “imagine that, huh, me working for you!” whoa
Sign, sign everywhere a sign. Blocking out the scenery breaking my mind. Do this don’t do that can’t you read the sign?
Signs, the Gospel is full of strange ones this morning… sun, moon, stars, earth and sea, some kind of biblical bowl of Lucky Charms cereal spilled everywhere, setting everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers-that-be crying over much more than spilt milk.
The author of Luke goes on… And then—then!—they’ll see the Son of Man welcomed in style—a grand and glorious welcome! When all this starts to happen, get up on your feet… stand tall with your heads high. Help is on the way!
Then Jesus tells a story… When you see a fig tree or any tree for that matter… you know that summer is right around the corner when the leaves begin to show. The same here—when you see these things happen, you know God’s kingdom will soon be here. Don’t write this off… I’m not just saying it for some generation down the road, but, for this one too—these things will happen. The sky and earth won’t last forever, but my words will.
Then we’re given a warning sign… Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking, decorating or shopping. Otherwise, that Day will be here before you know it and it’s going to surprise everyone, everywhere, at once. So watch out and keep praying that you will escape all that is going to happen and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.
There Will Be Signs.
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Today is the First Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Church year. We begin again to share our story and celebrate God’s faith, hope and love… but first we wait. We wait for a sign… look for when and where God reveals God’s self to us.
Now people had been waiting for signs of the Messiah for a long time, and now we too wait, watching for signs along the way to mark this new time, knowing what is to come and yet waiting to celebrate both the birth of Jesus and His return. While we wait, we look for signs and pray… knowing we belong to God.
Advent a time of signs… most of which we are completely oblivious to. Oh—we get the signs of our consumer culture glittering and guilting us into spending time and resources to mark, well to celebrate, I mean to have, well you know a Merry Christmas. Wait Christmas, oh right, we’re in church, the color is blue, not red or green. The hymns are hopeful, not carols of joy, the focus is on preparation, not on well… well I guess our worlds do collide there… Preparation.
So how do we prepare…? Well, we pray and look for signs… signs of renewal and of God with us, who transforms the world. “Look for the signs” Jesus says, “And you know God’s realm is arriving.” Jesus wants us to live with hope in the present, stand tall, pay attention, be ready because incarnation is now, hope is now, revelation is now, living is now!
I’m reminded of the recent Fidelity commercials where a person suddenly finds a green line on the ground in front of them and their financial advisor says “just stay on the green line and you will be fine.” But God is not an investment for the future, rather a way of life today. The kingdom of God is here and near, we are each given an Advent blue path with signs of God all around us for this and every day.
There will be signs, and they are all around us.
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Advent a time of signs, but signs of what? I don’t see an Advent blue line in front of me, or any of you… It seems the only signs of the season are focused on the negative:
- war in Afghanistan that we should ramp up, or deploy an exit strategy in,
- healthcare that is accessible for all, or only those legally in the country,
- consumer confidence rebounding, or denying new economic realities.
How often it seems that when things are bad or just uncertain, that we wonder where God is. We look to and for God. But we often look for God where we think God should be… among peaceful, healthy and abundant times. But today’s text reminds us to look up, notice our reality, the good and the bad, and see the signs of God around us.
But God isn’t to be found in the negative stuff we see and hear from newscasters, bloggers and politicians… Or—is that the very place to look. We wrap God in glorious boxes and fail to remember that God is equally at home on the cross.
God promises us that, exactly when we seem to be furthest from God’s pressence and God’s promises; God is most near to us. God doesn’t say look for signs of me in the mall, or the birthing center at the finest hospital in town, God tells us there will be signs even where we least expect them.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in The Coming of Jesus in Our Midst, “we find it so strange when we see the marks of God in the world so often together with the marks of human suffering, with the marks of the cross on Golgotha… the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. God comes into the very midst of evil and death, and judges the evil in us and in the world. God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be—in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The Coming of Jesus in Our Midst,” from A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, edited by Geoffrey Kelly and F. Burton Nelson. Harper San Francisco, 1995)
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Signs of God, God sightings if you will… sometimes are as clear as a street sign. Sometimes we see or experience them with church folk or during worship, but the reality is that most often we do not. I’ve tried to have adults in small group settings, meetings or bible studies share their “God Sightings” with varied levels of success. But with younger folks… like with confirmation youth at Camp Calumet last summer, highs and lows of the day and moments where God was seen or experienced were shared freely.
Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright suggests that these God sightings are the “reappearing’ of Jesus, a phrase used by some early Christians. Wright says: “He is, at the moment, present with us, but hidden behind that invisible veil which keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments, such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scriptures, and our work with the poor, when the veil seems particularly thin. But one day the veil will be lifted; earth and heaven will be one: Jesus will be personally present, and every knee shall bow at his name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and God’ new world will at last be in place, full of new prospects and possibilities.” (N.T. Wright, Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense, p. 219)
Advent is all about signs of hope and God sightings.
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A friend recently shared a most remarkable conversation with her first grader two Saturdays ago, the night before they made their first trek to church in months. She described it as a moment that was far more powerful than she could even begin to express… “We were in the kitchen, I was picking up from dinner, Andrew was hiding under the kitchen table when Matthew walked in and just out of the blue asked the question: ‘Hey mom, do you know where God is?’ I responded, where Matthew? He said, ‘EVERYWHERE! God’s standing right here, and God’s sitting next to Andrew, and God’s up in our bedroom at night watching over us.’”
We live in hope, and among signs…
- hope, in the promise of God with us in our reality, the good and the bad,
- hope here in people of faith using Advent as a time of prayer, reflection, and paying attention to the signs of God,
- signs of the kingdom of God, seen and unseen,
- signs that incarnation is now, hope is now, revelation is now, living.. life itself is now!
They might not be as obvious as some Advent blue path that we follow for these four weeks, but there will be signs… and may we live and wait this Advent expecting to see God as Matthew does EVERYWHERE!