When I was a kid, growing up in Southern Ohio meant being a bit closer to nature and natural folklore than I find myself now as I live, serve and minister on the East Coast near the hub of New York City. I knew people who had jobs dowsing for water, buried cables and wire, gas pipes...you name it. I had teachers in earth science who taught us that most of the weeds growing in our gardens were as nutritious as the stuff we bought off the shelf in supermarkets. We knew some of the farmers at the local farmer's market by name...and looked forward to fresh honey, vegetables and fruits in their seasons. I also had friends whose families had to rely on hunting in winter for food. All of those aspects of life required a person to be tuned in to the environment around them. It required them to look for signs.
Now, I live in New Jersey, and still rely on signs. For the most part, those signs are ones posted by the DOT on the roadside...or display themselves on my GPS...as I drive.
Still, I do rely on signs from my childhood from time to time. Sometimes I do navigate my way home from afar by the placement of the moss on the trees, by the angle of the sun at a given time of day or by the moon.I do note that, as I learned when I was a kid, when the birds fly low a storm is coming. I can see by the pitch of the ground that a hard frost has come, and when the ground breaks up just enough for early spring planting as the seasons change....
But the kind of signs we are keeping an eye out for require more than just folk wisdom. They even push past our regular reliance on human experience. When God tells King Ahaz in Isaiah to ask for a sign, he is asking Ahaz to do two things we often fear as human beings: 1) Give up OUR agendas and expectations and rely on God's revelatory grace; and 2) Open up our senses to experiences and events that we cannot possibly anticipate.
Most of the signs I learned as a child were things observable as a result of events happening, or signs of events that were about to come to pass whose influence is already being felt. God offering Ahaz the opportunity to ask for a sign? That is outside our ken. Ahaz wasn't ready for it, in fact he refused it. What will we do?
As Christmastide looms large, and as signs of its arrival break out around us, are you tuned in to the other signs God may be placing before you? Might you be willing to actually ask, perhaps demand, a sign?
Advent is a lovely, dangerous time when we are reminded that God is imminent as well as eminent in our lives. Get ready, and be willing to ask for that sign....even as the signs break out all around us.
May God give us the strength to live on God's time...and with God's signs as our guides in this life and into the next.....