Sunday, December 01, 2013

Sign of the times?

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Advent Sunday 2013.

Off the top of your head,
what signs of the Church
are there outside now?

There are the two signs on the door
 and there are the two signs
on the walls of the porch.

There’s even that A-frame outside,
but is that it?

Is the church flag a sign?

What about the statue of Our Lady,
 is that a sign of the Church?

It’s amazing how many signs there are
that we pass by on our way to Church.

There are road signs telling us to
Give way!

There are signs all around us
telling all kinds of information
 – “Please Pay Here”,
“No Dogs Allowed”, “No Smoking”,
that weird sign that looks like
a man trying to open an umbrella
that is supposed to mean
 “men at work”
or rather “men on a tea-break”.

How much attention do you pay
to the signs that you see on an everyday basis?


There are other signs too.

“Red sky at night…”

If the sky is clear at night
in December, you’ll know
it’s going to be frosty the next morning.

 If the green man at the pelican crossing has gone out,
 then you know that crossing the road
is not going to be good for your health.

So what would you make of a sign
which showed a man on a donkey
saying “Danger, Messiah at work”?

 It’s a strange sign indeed, especially
when it’s more suited to Palm Sunday than Advent,
but it’s more correct than you think.

Remember, “Advent” means “arrival”,
or perhaps more literally “carried to us.”

When we see Our Lord Jesus on Palm Sunday,
 we see Him carried to us on an ass.

He comes into Jerusalem as the King of Peace,
not on a great war-horse to conquer,
but to broker a new relationship
between God and Man.

It’s such a familiar sign to us Christians,
our Lord entering Jerusalem on an ass.

This takes us back to that Christmas scene
when Joseph brought a pregnant Mary
 into Bethlehem on a donkey.

Or does it?


Nowhere in the Bible do we see
that traditional image of Our Lady,
big with child,
coming into Bethlehem on a donkey.

The only mention of anyone riding on an ass in the Gospels
is what we see here on Palm Sunday.
Like angel wings and three kings,
the donkey ride into Bethlehem is just a romantic idea
– it’s not biblical.

Human beings are very good
at remembering things that aren’t really there
in addition to not seeing things that really are.

There are some signs which are not really signs at all. 

The idea of a Christmas donkey ride into Bethlehem
is quite plausible,
but the fact it is not included in the Bible
does mean that it is not important to our Faith.

The donkey ride into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday
is a sign that tells us that
Our Lord Jesus is precisely who He says He is
and is thus terribly important to our Faith.

It is important to get the signs right.

In the book of Revelation,
we are told that the number of the beast is
six hundred and sixty-six
and it seems most likely that
the beast that was meant
by St John in his book
was in fact the Emperor Nero.

this has caused some Christians
to try and fit that number to all kinds of people
from the Pope to Martin Luther
to Adolph Hitler to Aleister Crowley
 to Nelson Mandela!

They believe that it is a sign of the future Antichrist.

Yet this is not what St John is actually saying!

We Christians cannot afford to live like this,
seeing signs that aren’t there and ignoring the signs that are.

Our Lord Himself warns us,
“Then if any man shall say unto you,
Lo, here is Christ, or there;
believe it not.

For there shall arise false Christs,
and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders;
 insomuch that,
if it were possible,
they shall deceive the very elect.”

As in the case of 666,
some Christians spend too much time
analysing the signs too closely
and ignoring the message
 that the sign is giving us.

It is the obsession with avoiding sexism and homophobia
that is leading some Christians
to fall away from their faith.

It is also an obsession with homosexuality
that prevents some Christians
 from seeing the person
beneath who needs
Christian love and charity in order to live.

It is the indiscriminate and misdirected hatred of abortion
that is preventing some Christians
from seeing the pain of women
who have been raped.

The sign of Christ can only ever be Love.

Wrangling about signs takes us away from love.

If we stand in the middle of the road
trying to work out whether
the colour of the green man is significant,
whether it should be a lighter green,
          or a darker green,
          or blue,
          or turquoise to mean what he is suppose to mean
 then when he goes out,
we will get run over.

 If we get stuck too far in the signs that God gives us,
then we will miss the sign
that draws us ever closer to Him.

It is the duty of the Christian
to love God and Neighbour,
to pray and to be active in helping others.

As we see the signs
 of the Christmas lights going up,
so are we reminded that Our Lord is coming again.

To ask “when” is to miss the point.

All we can do is our duty
to the best of our abilities
and to wait for His coming.

He is coming soon
and will ask us what we have done for Him
while we’ve been waiting for Him.

What better sign of God’s goodness
can we be to the world
if we seek to live our lives
truly awaiting His arrival joyfully?

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