A friend of mine has a stock phrase that always starts “I knew it was going to get weirder when………” and then names some event. After the events of Sept. 11th, we both had some additions to this collection. My first one was “I knew it was going to get weirder when I got several e-mails telling me that Nostradamus predicted the attack on the World Trade Towers.” The number of e-mail acquaintances that bought into that was astounding. The truth is, of course, that if Nostradamus predicted it, so did William Shakespeare, The Book of Daniel, Revelation, and several OT prophets. Some creative soul had taken single lines out of Nostradamus’ voluminous writings and patched them together in a four verse “prediction”. It actually would have been easier with Shakespeare or the OT prophets, but people know those writings too well to be fooled.
The second wave of ‘I knew it was going to get weirder when…..’ two of our national tele-evangelists decided that this was a punishment by Godde for women’s liberation and the increasing acknowledgment of gay and lesbian persons as also being children of Godde. If that is what brings war down upon our heads, imagine what they would propose is the cause of the conditions in Afghanistan, Turkey, Greece, or Ecuador, where “war and rumours of war, pestilence, earth quake, flood, etc.” happen in every generation.
There is an undeniable need of human beings to find a reason for everything, and preferably one that fits our world view or prejudices. We flock to dramatic signs in dramatic times to either reassure us that “It happened for a reason” or it is some one else’s fault.
In the 6th chapter of Judges, Gideon asks Godde to affirm his call by letting water accumulate on a fleece overnight while the ground is dry. It happens, and just to be sure that it is reliable, Gideon asks Godde to reverse the sign the next night – dry fleece, wet ground. That too happens and Gideon is reassured that his call is genuine. I belong to Women in Ministry Online chat line, as a part of ECUNET. A middle-aged woman pastor said that although she felt and heard the call to be ordained, she “put out a fleece” and asked that student loans become available to her if she was indeed meant to go to seminary. The loans were offered, she went to seminary and is now serving in a rural parish, cheerfully paying off her debt. She asked for, and received, a personal reassurance that she was headed down the right path, but in a very mundane way.
I think we like the dramatic signs in times of trouble because it brings meaning to difficult circumstances. It comforts us in a strange way to know that the upheaval we feel was inevitable or foretold. These sweeping interpretations of signs also occur in times of social change. A good example is the book “The Late Great Planet Earth” which sold millions of copies. Prophecies taken from the Bible clearly predicted the end of time. For better or worse, the imminent end of time has been a topic of discussion among Christians since the time of the Apostle Paul. And our love of the dramatic turns us away from the signs of our daily life.
It is Advent, and as sacramental people, we spend these days preparing for the Birth of Christ. It is a time of reflection, anticipation, waiting and watching. It is the perfect time to observe and immerse ourselves in the little signs, the common everyday evidence of Godde’s care. Look around you – the same familiar faithful faces of your Christian community are here. How undramatic ! How boring !! How reassuring.
Hear the words of the liturgy – their cadence, the flow of language. Experience the sign of peace and listen to the words that are offered – “The peace of Christ be with you” Indeed. What a profound wish that we take for granted because we hear it every week and go through the motions. Our friend Katherine relates that little Alexander had spent enough time in church by the time he was 3 that when someone offered their hand anywhere he would say “Peace”. Now there is a sign.
Remember the quiet labor of those who serve, not in spectacular ways, but in the daily. The bank clerk who was cheerful, the grocer who left his shelf stocking to lead you to the green olives, the neighbor who offered to water your plants during your absence.
Then there is the breaking of the bread. Christ, our Passover, is broken for us, and we eat of the broken pieces and become one in Christ. The breaking and dying in our lives, the re-membering and healing are called Paschal Mystery, and it is a sign to us that healing is a powerful force in Godde’s world. Yet it is a sign that, if we are not careful, we miss ……gazing off into space thinking about Sunday dinner, shuffling our feet wondering if church will be out “on-time”.
And in this Advent season, there is the ultimate sign, the one that is announced to the shepherds. “And here is a sign for you; you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
God with us. Everyday, a constant presence, the light in the darkness. We needn’t look into the clouds for shapes that look like the face of Jesus. We can look into the faces around us, and the faces of strangers and see the face of Jesus. Our hearts move like the baby in Elizabeth’s womb when we hear the voice of promise. And we call him Immanual, which means Godde-with-us. The perfect sign of love.
In the name of Godde; Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier.