Graphic by David Chen

Signs of God are here if we choose to look

  • December 2, 2016

3rd Sunday in Advent, Dec. 11 (Year A) Isaiah 35:1-6a, 10; Psalm 146; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

The desert wilderness can be a bleak and terrifying place, devoid of life, beauty and hope.

That is the reason that it was often the metaphor for Israel’s destruction and exile. Addressing those of his people that were in Babylonian exile during the sixth century B.C., Isaiah turned the depressing metaphor into one of hope and joy.

With God in the equation, everything would be different — the desert would be fruitful and filled with abundance and vibrant life, always a clear sign of God’s loving and redemptive presence. The people were helpless in the hands of their captors, with no one to take up their cause.

Isaiah promised them God would be their champion and defender. But there was even more: they would be going home someday — not today, not tomorrow, not next week, but in the future. They would have to be patient, waiting in faith, hope and trust.

The day finally arrived some 50 years later — too long in the minds of many, but just right for those who wait patiently for the Lord. Impatience and anger have destroyed many noble undertakings — the pursuit of justice, efforts to improve societies, peace negotiations, even human relationships. Much of the political turmoil present in our world stems in part from impatience. Patience is the ability to work in God’s time and God’s methods rather than our own.

It is far more than mere resignation or “putting up” with someone or something. On the contrary, it is the acquired skill of knowing how to wait with inner peace, a sense of hope and a positive attitude. Patience is not a prominent virtue in our culture — we want everything now! Food, download speeds, delivery dates and even healing can never come fast enough to please us.

We want instant results from governments, even for insurmountable problems, and even God does not answer our prayers quickly enough. When one can trust and rest in God’s provident love, inner peace is the result, regardless of how negative things seem on the outside. Learning and demonstrating the art and virtue of patience is a great contribution to society and to the world. In our very uncertain and negative times it is more needed than ever.

The prison cell door had slammed shut behind John the Baptist. He knew that he would never see daylight again or leave prison alive. In the long hours in that dark, filthy cell, doubts began to creep in. Was Jesus really the long-awaited Messiah, or did they have to start over in their search?

He had to know, so he asked Jesus the pointed question through messengers. Jesus would not answer his question directly with a yes or no response. He ticked off a list of things that the messengers could see: the blind, lame, deaf and leprous restored to wholeness and health, and the dead raised. They could draw their own conclusions, but it was obvious that God was in their midst.

These are the infallible signs of God’s presence, favour and mercy. As they left, Jesus mused on how fickle people can be. Many thought John the Baptist a madman because of his extreme asceticism and lack of show. They expected someone with more flash and style, showing that their understanding of what it meant to be a spiritual teacher and prophet was superficial.

Jesus affirmed John as the forerunner and the best man ever born. But He added enigmatically that even the least born in the kingdom of Heaven was greater than John. It wasn’t a put-down. He was merely giving a hint of the great and momentous things to come — the turning of the ages, the giving of the Spirit and the full realization of God’s kingdom.

In a sense, He was saying, “You haven’t seen anything yet!” John accomplished his mission, as did countless holy men and women before him, and was willing to let go and step away. We all have a part to play, great or small, and much depends on our responses to God’s invitation to serve the kingdom.

People often wonder where God is in our crazy world, or if God is even present. But if we look around, we will find many signs of healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, hope, kindness, mercy and compassion. We will have answered our own question.