If you are feeling down or a little stressed over these next Advent and Christmas weeks and you haven’t had a chance, I encourage you, at some point, to listen to the You Tube video of a woman named “Donna,” who called in to a radio station in Fargo, North Dakota a few years ago. It turns out Donna wanted to talk with the radio show hosts about a troubling issue and no one was responding to her complaints or her suggestions.
The problem Donna was having? Deer crossing signs. By her own admission, Donna had been in three separate car accidents where she hit a deer on the highway and each of those accidents occurred soon after she passed one of those yellow, diamond shaped,“deer crossing” signs you sometimes see by the side of the road.
Donna’s quandary boiled down to one basic question that she had clearly spent a good deal of time mulling over. By the earnest tone of her voice, it was a question that had caused her a good deal of frustration and confusion. Why would they put “deer crossing” signs on the interstate in a place where there was so much car traffic?
When Donna finishes asking her question, there is an uncomfortable period of silence…dead air time where, I suspect, the radio show hosts are waiting for Donna to confess to them she’s just kidding. Or maybe they’re waiting for someone in the radio station to tell them they’re being pranked in real time.
A few awkward seconds later, it becomes clear that Donna is asking a serious question and waiting for a response. At that point, the host chimes in with a question of his own. “What do you think they should do with those “deer crossing” signs?”
And Donna answers immediately as though she’s been contemplating a solution for quite some time. “I don’t understand why they don’t just move the signs to areas where there is less traffic. Like a rural area or a small town somewhere. A place where people like me won’t accidentally hit the deer because I don’t want to do that. Maybe a good idea would be to put those “deer crossing” signs near the “school crossing” signs so the deer can safely get across to the other side of the road…
I’m pretty sure it’s all the radio hosts can do to keep from bursting out laughing. But hearing the sincerity in Donna’s voice, they try to explain to her that the yellow signs are placed in areas where there is a high concentration of deer as a warning to people that deer might be crossing the road at any given time.
They go on to say that the signs are not, as Donna assumes, for the deer themselves. Somehow, that explanation is lost on Donna, however. She can’t understand why, after she’s written three letters and made her point to numerous people, no one has moved those “deer crossing” signs to a more reasonable place. Whereupon the radio hosts realize that logic is futile and they agree to spread the word on Donna’s behalf. The phone call ends and the hosts hang up, chuckling along with the rest of the radio audience.
Sometimes human beings are not very good at reading the signs.
Even if you take the long view, the same has held true. All throughout the Gospels, people came up to Jesus and asked him for a sign from heaven. In response, Jesus would go ahead and perform a sign or heal someone miraculously and people still weren’t satisfied. Or they just didn’t get it. Even when Jesus was dragged before King Herod near the end of his life, the writer of Luke’s Gospel tells us that Herod was kind of excited. Even the king wanted to see Jesus perform some amazing sign.
No matter what Jesus did when it came to signs, people couldn’t figure out how to read signs for what they meant. It’s like they thought the signs Jesus did were for the deer and not actually for them. At one point, Jesus threw up his hands in exasperation and said, “You folks look up in the sky and you see some dark clouds gathering and you’re perceptive enough to realize that it’s about to rain. Then summer rolls around and you can see the sun shining brightly and there are no clouds and you understand it’s time to put on a pair of shorts. You can interpret the signs in the sky overhead. Why can’t you interpret what it means that I am here?
We tend to be not particularly good at reading signs. At least not signs that matter.
The disciples weren’t that good at reading signs in Luke’s twenty-first chapter either. Earlier they were staring at the temple, marveling collectively at how grand and how ornate and how central the temple was to their faith. Jesus, on the other hand, looked unimpressed. “You see that temple in front of your eyes? That whole thing is going to be nothing more than a pile of rubble.” Which the disciples were shocked to hear. “Teacher, when is that going to happen? What will be the sign we can look for that this is about to take place?”
They wanted Jesus to give them something concrete and detailed. Maybe something a little mysterious they could treat as a big secret. Instead, Jesus told them something obvious. When a big army is camped around the Temple and they have big weapons in their hand and it looks like they’re about to destroy it, then you will know. And sure enough, the Roman army followed that blueprint and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in the year 70 A.D., some forty years after Jesus was crucified.
There was no real mystery in what Jesus said. The signs would be clear and unmistakable. Jesus wasn’t done, though. In the next breath, Jesus went on to speak about other signs. When he returned to earth, Jesus described signs in the sun and the moon and the stars. Signs in the roaring of the sea and the shaking of the heavens. Signs revealed in people fainting and the Son of Man appearing in a cloud.
The first time around, on the day Jesus was born in Bethlehem in a manger, the sign was hidden from most people. The sign of God’s realm was born as a baby in a humble stable and visible only to those who had faith. The second time around Jesus promised things would be different. When Jesus came back to earth in all his power and glory, nobody would miss it…
If you and I saw crazy things going on around us, would we have an inkling of what was going on? If the stars and the sun and the moon did something out of the ordinary. If people started feeling faint and the sea started roaring and the heavens shook. Then we gazed overhead and saw the Son of Man up in the clouds? Could we read the signs and know Jesus was returning?
The point of today’s Scripture lesson is to assure us that Jesus is coming again. And when it happens we will know.
In the meantime, you and I may be closer to that time than we think. I don’t have any inside information about Jesus returning to earth. Still I trust that the signs Jesus preached about and performed in his lifetime are signs that the realm of God has already broken in among us. God’s future has already entered our present. The realm of God is at hand. The kingdom of God is coming. The train has left the station.
Actually, Scripture tells us…Jesus tells us… the realm of God is coming soon. Soon could mean tomorrow. It could mean a hundred or a thousand years from now. But soon means it is on its way. And soon means we are one day closer today than we were yesterday.
The question is what do we do until Jesus returns? For the time being, I have to believe that Jesus is less interested in signs overhead. Instead, Jesus is interested in the signs he sees in you and me. As followers of Jesus, it’s less important for us to look for signs and much more important for us to actually be the signs.
You and I, we are the signs of God’s realm. In the way we live our lives, you and I point the way to God’s good future and final victory. You and I are charged to be signs helping people find Jesus Christ.
So can we do what Jesus charged us to do? Instead of acting as though the world might be coming to an end and the apocalypse is right around the corner, can we act as though a new era is arriving and a new beginning is near? People of faith who claim to be disciples of the coming Christ, we are like the sneak preview of God’s realm. We are the appetizer. People in the world catch a glimpse of the realm of God by watching how you and I live our lives…
The world we live in is full of signs. Those signs tell us how to behave and which way to go and how to be safe. And the truth is human beings don’t always read those signs well.
That doesn’t mean we should stop trying, however. In fact, maybe the church should put up its own sign. I can see it now out on the front lawn of Wapping Community Church. Big bold letters, easy to see and read…“Coming Soon.”
Talk about an unmistakable message. Jesus is on the way. Amen.