December 22, 2019

 “A Sign for Everyone”  

Isaiah 7:10-16; Luke 2:1-20


Many of you know I have been blessed to travel to Scotland twice in my life; first in 2015, and then again this past summer along with a few folks from our own congregation. For my first trip to my homeland, I had a great week of spiritual reflection on the island of Iona, followed by a week of driving around Scotland and getting in touch with my family heritage.  There were a few folks who were a bit worried that I would be driving alone, in a strange country, on the wrong side of the road.  For the most part, I had little trouble getting around Scotland. There were, however, some very perplexing signs on the roads there.


For example, most of the signs were in two languages-English and Gaelic. So, occasionally I got confused about a location I was trying to get to. In addition, some of the signs, even though they were only in English, were confusing. For example, there was this one-“Single Track Road. Use passing places to permit overtaking.” I think in the States it would have just said, “Single Lane. Use caution.” Then there was the one that warned me about “Oncoming Vehicles in Middle of Road.” Yikes! The closest translation I could figure out was, “Road Narrows. Use Caution.” When I got into the roundabouts, of which there were very many, it really took a while to understand just how those signs worked. In addition, on the roads, there were these curved arrows that were pointing towards me when I drove on the left. I finally figured out that those signs meant that the road was widening for traffic going the other way. I wish I could have interpreted those signs better when I was in Scotland, but they were often very confusing.


Sometimes, even though signs are as plain as day, we can miss them. I remember a few years ago when we still lived in Fort Bragg, CA, there was a rather dangerous four-way stop intersection in that small town. People were running through the stop signs all the time causing fender benders repeatedly, and it was scary going through that section of town. The city council decided to do something about it. They installed flashing stop signs in all four directions, hoping to protect folks in the crosswalks. For the most part, it worked. People finally began to stop at that intersection before proceeding further. Although, not long after those flashing stop signs were put up, my daughter and I saw a woman who was speaking on her cell phone while driving. She went right through without stopping and almost hit us, just as I started to move into the intersection. Apparently, she missed the sign, even though it was flashing, bright red, and right in her line of vision.


Signs, if we can understand them, and if we pay attention to them can help us on the journey. For example, when I’m traveling north on I -5 to Portland for a meeting, I have a favorite stop in Roseburg I try to go to when I have time- Long John Silver’s. I don’t worry about setting my GPS map on my phone. I just look for that white sign as you approach Roseburg, which lists the restaurants on exit 124, and I know how to get to that yummy lunch of crispy fish and chicken.


Signs can guide us to particular destinations, and help us on our journeys. Sometimes, however, those signs aren’t on the freeway or a city street. Back in 2015 around this time of year, people got excited about a sign in nature, as there was a full moon on Christmas Day. It's not every lifetime that you get a chance to celebrate a FULL MOON on Christmas day.  NASA called it “an added gift for the holidays,” and it was beautiful. Christmas night that year was cold and clear, and the moon was amazing to behold. Another full moon won’t be visible on Dec. 25 until 2034. The last full moon of the year is called the “Full Cold Moon” because it coincides with the start of the winter season, according to NASA.

In other cultures and religions around the world, the full moon is seen as an important sign. For instance, many important events in Buddhism fell on a full moon. The Buddha was born on a full moon, and his renunciation took place on a full moon.  The Roman goddess of the Moon was named Luna, and that's how we came up with the words "lunatic" and "lunacy." Roman culture said that every night, she'd ride her silver chariot across the pitch-black sky. Other female moon goddesses include the Chinese Chang'e and Mama Quilla, of the Incas. Some people still believe women are closely connected to the phases of the moon, as the moon was once believed to determine a woman's fertility and when she could become pregnant. To this day, many will still claim that on the night of a full moon, maternity wards are flooded with moms-to-be. For many cultures, a full moon is a sign.


But the most important sign for us to speak of tonight is the one the angels tell the shepherds about, the most significant sign ever given to humanity- the birth of the Christ Child. This is a sign meant for us all-one which can provide direction and understanding on our life’s journey. The sign was first mentioned in Isaiah, as the people looked for a faithful King, one who was a worthy son of God, to lead them. Some 500 years later, the sign finally arrived.


In our first scene, in Luke’s gospel, Joseph and Mary go to be registered, and Jesus is born in an unknown location (we can assume it was some kind of stable) and laid in a manger. This King of Kings is not dressed in elaborate clothes of purple cloth, suitable for royalty, but is wrapped in whatever Mary happened to have around. The fact that there was no room for them at the inn is mentioned in one passing phrase. What is obvious from reading these verses, however, is how ordinary and unobtrusive this birth was to those around Mary and Joseph. To the townspeople, this was just another ordinary woman giving birth to another ordinary child of no happens all the time.


Yet in our second scene, this ordinary birth is announced by an angel for what it truly signifies- as a sign from heaven for the world-the extraordinary coming of the Messiah, who is Christ the Lord. This is the Anointed One, the one about whom the Hebrew Scriptures have been prophesying for centuries.


It is significant that the angel comes to shepherds. These were men who spent most of their time in the fields with the sheep and were societal outcasts, nothing like the sanitized versions of shepherds we see at this time of year on Christmas cards. We would assume that kings and rabbis and scribes and other important people would be the ones to welcome the Christ child. Yet, we well know that is not who God chose to be the first to know. These ordinary, everyday shepherds were the ones who found out first, driving home the point that Christ came first for the poor, the outcast. 


In our third scene, the shepherds do what is natural after hearing this news-they go to see this sign for themselves. They want to see this child with their own eyes. When they have been in the presence of the Christ child, they go away praising God for the miracle that has taken place. They tell everyone they can find that the Messiah has been born. In other words, they hear of the sign, see it and believe.  Then they go and tell the world the truth of what they saw with their own eyes. By following the sign of Christ’s birth, they have a new direction and understanding for their life’s journey. They likely went back to shepherding, but their lives were never the same.


Jesus came for us all as a sign of God’s love for humanity.  We all have been shown the sign to help us on our journey through this life, a sign that, when we pay attention to it, make sour lives never the same again. Consider where your life journey has led up to this point. Have you paid attention to the most important sign, one that leads to hope, peace, love, and joy? Have you let his teachings guide you and challenge society and the status quo around you-to raise up the poor, help the oppressed, free those held captive as we celebrate his birth this Christmas?  Author Steve Mariboli, in response to the culture wars that are often heightened at this time of year over Jesus and Christmas, wrote, Want to keep Christ in Christmas? Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, forgive the guilty, welcome the unwanted, care for the ill, love your enemies, and do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Follow this sign- change yourselves and the world around you!


If you feel lost, uncertain, depressed, afraid, in need, or alone, look to the sign of Jesus to help you find direction and understanding in your life’s journey. The birth of the son of God some 2000 years ago continues to be a sign of hope in time of hopelessness, peace in time of conflict, love in time of broken and strained relationships, and joy in times of sorrow. This morning we are gathered here together to experience this most important and amazing sign:  For to you is born this day and every day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you, a sign to guide you through each moment of each day, a sign of joy for you in every circumstance, in every struggle, in time of shadow and despair. Alleluia! Amen.

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