These are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday in Advent. I will be publishing some thoughts from Christmas Day. May the blessings of the season be given to you and your family.
This has been edited since it was first posted on 22 December 2007.
A number of years ago, I referred to the song “Signs” by the Five Man Electric Band in one of my sermons. As I was driving up to where I was to preach, I would pass a number of churches with signs in the front yard telling the title of the sermon that the pastor was giving. It was always interesting to see what other pastors were doing with what was probably the same set of lectionary readings.
While it is the last verse of the song “Signs” that I most enjoy, it is the second verse that seems appropriate this time. The second verse goes “And the sign said anyone caught trespassing would be shot on sight. So I jumped on the fence and yelled at the house, ‘Hey! What gives you the right to put up a fence to keep me out or to keep Mother Nature in? If God were here, He’d tell you to your face, man, you’re some kind of sinner.” (http://www.fivemanelectricalband.ca/signslyrics.html)
We see all sorts of signs in our daily lives. Unfortunately, they are signs that take us away from the meaning of the season. We see and hear that our businesses cry that we must buy their goods or they will go out of business. Instead of saving our souls, we are to save our economy through the gifts that we buy. It used to be that there was only “Black Friday”, the day after Thanksgiving, when shopping was impossible. But apparently not enough people have gone shopping and business are make pleas for consumers to buy and buy more or the economy will be in ruins.
We see and hear advertisements that speak of what we are to get, not what we are to give. We see and hear people cry that our civilization and society are coming apart. People say that these are the days of ruin and destruction that mark the end times. We must be vigilant and strong; we must deny people the right to exist if they do not believe what we tell them to believe. We demand that God set right this world in a way that only the so-called most righteous of society deemed appropriate.
In today’s Old Testament reading (Isaiah 7: 10 – 16) the Lord asks Ahaz to ask for a sign from God. But Ahaz said that he would not ask nor would he test the Lord. And Isaiah warns the House of David that they are testing the Lord. Not only are they causing discomfort amongst their own people, but they are giving grief to God and causing Him to be weary of them as well. If we are to believed the most righteous in today’s society, God’s weariness for this nation and this society would be remedied by a thunderbolt from the sky that would wipe all the sinners off the map. But who would be left behind? Those who speak of the Second Coming of Christ in apocalyptic terms are often the very ones who cry out against society but are indifferent to the problems of society. They may talk the talk but they do not walk the walk and too many people see them for the hypocrites that they truly are.
Time and time again, Jesus spoke out against the false dichotomies of His times. How many times did he begin by saying, “You have heard it said, but I say”? What you think God wants is not necessarily what God wants and the standard by which righteousness is measured is replaced by the reality of a new consciousness, the Kingdom of Heaven. (Adapted from Why the Christian Right Is Wrong by Robin Meyers)
Ahaz would not test the Lord, even if the implication is that he has the right to and it is all together possible that God will respond in the most authoritative manner possible. But Ahaz, who has lead his nation away from God, could not do so because his words would ring hollow.
But God chooses not to do that, which I am sure must disappointed many of that society’s counterparts to our “watchdogs” and “guardians” of our morals. Rather, Isaiah tells us that God will send us a sign in the manner of a young child. That this child will eat curds and honey by the time that he is old enough to choose good over evil is a sign of where he will be born. He will not be born to a rich or upper class family but rather to a simple family. God’s sign to His people is truly apocalyptic but not in the manner that the people desire. Instead of God’s wrath and destruction, it will be God’s love and grace through His Son.
The Gospel message from Matthew for today (Matthew 1: 18 – 25) completes the prophecy of Isaiah. In giving Jesus the additional name of Emmanuel (which means “God is among us”), we are being told that Jesus will be like us; he will be neither rich nor powerful. Jesus will be like us and our relationship with God will change.
Paul’s words to the Romans for today (Romans 1: 1 – 7) are a reminder to us that this gift, first told in Isaiah and given to us in Matthew, is all, not just the people of Israel or the world of Paul’s day and time.
It is a sign that there is a new world, a world in which the things around us have changed. We can, of course, ignore the signs and continue this season as we have been doing, living inn a consumer-oriented world more concerned about the stuff we get or we can change what we are doing and how we are thinking and become more concerned about the people around us.
At the beginning of this little piece today, I mentioned the song “Signs” by the Five Man Electrical Band. Though this song has often be called a one-hit wonder, its closing verse has much to say about where we are in this world today and where we are headed, “And the sign said everybody welcome, come in, kneel down and pray. But when they passed around the plate at the end of it all, I didn’t have a penny to pay, so I got me a pen and a paper and I made up my own little sign. I said thank you Lord for thinking about me, I’m alive and doing fine.” (http://www.fivemanelectricalband.ca/signslyrics.html)
At this time and in this season, it is we who should be saying,”Thank you, Lord, for thinking about me.” We see the signs of times and we can be afraid. But if we expect death and destruction to come down upon us, we are going to be sadly mistaken. There will a change in this world and if we are not careful, we might miss the most important sign.
For the past four weeks, during this season of Advent, we have been told to look for the signs of the times and to prepare for the Coming of the Lord. These signs are not in the economy; they are not in society. The signs of the times to come will be found in a manager in Bethlehem. It is the beginning of a new world. We have seen the signs; we have heard the signs. Let us not miss them this time.