At the time of this writing the church universal finds itself just a little over the halfway mark of the season of Advent (2017). For those unfamiliar with Advent, it is essentially a season of expectation, waiting, and preparation the church participates in as it anticipates the celebration of the birth of King Jesus (you know…Christmas). It’s quite meaningful (and fun!).
Advent culminates with [a remembrance of] the birth of Jesus Christ- the incarnation- God becoming flesh and dwelling among His creation on earth (John 1:14). Everything begins with Advent.
Looking for a sign
Throughout Jesus’ ministry He was frequently pressed by skeptics to needing to prove or explain Himself- that He was who they (the Pharisees and Sadducees, for example) thought He was. One of these instances is accounted for in Matthew 16:1-4:
The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jesus then left them and went away.
Perhaps they needed to see a sign from heaven in order to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. “Here Jesus, if you can fit in this box I’ve made for you them I’ll believe in you.” Perhaps their theology called for a god that was like a genie that gave unlimited wishes. “Hey Jesus, I know you recently fed thousands of people with a few loaves of bread…and I know that you have been healing like, all of the sick people. But could you, I don’t even know, like, make the sky flash or make fire come down or something?”
Jesus didn’t give them exactly that. But what He did do was reference a story that He was pretty sure the questioning crowd was familiar with- the story of Jonah. Have you ever heard of that Bible story of the guy who got swallowed up by a big fish and spit out? That’s Jonah!
The point that Jesus was making was this: Jonah was sent to Nineveh to deliver a message. The people of Nineveh listened to the message and responded appropriately, and it shaped the generations to follow. Now in these days (Jesus’ days), even the people who met John the Baptist and Jesus IN PERSON, refused to believe. Jesus was hoping that their knowledge of how the people of Nineveh responded would lead them to respond with a similar openness.
Do we look for signs?
This whole scene got me wondering: Do I ever look for signs like the Pharisees and Sadducees did? According to Jesus this would be a “wicked and adulterous” thing to do, and who wants to do that?! But…do we?
Do we fervently look to the heavens for God to do something- anything– as if our faith now hinged on it? Could it be that we subconsciously, unintentionally, desire to experience some significantly out-of-the-ordinary event in order to affirm our beliefs? “I believe in Jesus, but man, if Jesus would just do this I would really believe in Him then.”
Do our prayers now come from a place of hopelessness, rather than a place of mustard-seed-sized faith? Do we somehow, in some way, ask God to restart another round of, “Was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever?” Have we put too much stock in the created things, having drifted away from the Creator, and are now desperately clawing back to belief? “But my faith just really needs a kick-start, ya know?”
Look no further
What Jesus was trying to reveal to the skeptics is exactly what the author of the Gospel of John already knew: The ultimate sign from heaven had come; the Word has become flesh. This same John wrote the following in another one of his essays:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete. (1 John 1:1-4)
The significance of Advent is that God came down to earth to be like us and with us. Jesus is the SIGNificance, and the world is forever changed.
Our joy can be complete. God is with us. We don’t need to look any further than what has already come.
I love Jesus, and I love Advent.