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Isaiah 35:1-10; Psalm 146:5-10; James 5:7-10; Matthew 11:2-11

Weekday mornings we wake to CBC radio to get up and walk with the dog and get the day started. On Monday mornings, following a brief news update, business columnist Donna Guzik is the regular guest. I admit I don’t concern myself much with business news, but hearing Donna Guzik each week has made me aware, even on groggy Monday mornings, of the numbers and reports and trends that people in business and the financial industry follow as signs of what may be ahead. I am amazed by the detailed analysis and descriptions of potential impacts of inflation, rate hikes, employment numbers, quarterly earnings, federal bank decisions, political conditions, market reactions, and more. It is its own world and language of daily and hourly tracking of critical signs of the times, at least in financial terms. But it often leaves me asking, does all this work to know what is ahead in business and finance? And even more in this Advent time, does any of this help us watch, prepare for, be awake and ready for what is to come in Creator’s world? 

           And so also in the bigger picture, daily papers, online news feeds, 24-hour news channels, internet posts, blogs, podcasts, TV and radio news-related programing, and more, from various sources and perspectives, all offering information and analysis of not only financial, but political, social, environmental, local and global signs of the times and what they potentially mean for what lies ahead. Does following, reading, watching, listening to this continuous, often overwhelming news and information, these signs of the times, and how much we take in, help us know what might happen in this world? And more, help us watch, prepare for, be awake and ready for what is to come in Creator’s world? Or does it raise more fears and anxieties, and remind us of how uncertain most everything is?

           Sings of the times. What are the critical signs? Does Creator Sets Free (Jesus) see and invite us to watch for other signs of what is and what is to come in Creator’s world? 

           I have shared before how compelling I find today’s gospel story. Gift of Goodwill (John), who was calling from the desert for a baptism of repentance to prepare the way for the one greater than he who is to come. Gift of Goodwill (John), who reluctantly baptized Creator Sets Free (Jesus) believing it should be the other way around. Gift of Goodwill (John), now a political and religious prisoner, likely knowing what lies ahead, if not exactly how he was to die, that he would. And so asks his followers to ask Creator Sets Free (Jesus) if he is the one, or if they are to wait for another? And Creator Sets Free (Jesus), who must have felt deeply for his relation in prison and known too what was likely to come for him, tells Gift of Goodwill’s (John’s) followers to tell him what they have seen and heard with their own eyes and ears: the blind can see again, the lame walk, those with skin disease have been cleansed, ears have been opened, the dead have come back to life again, the poor are being told the good story. These are the signs of the times that Creator Sets Free (Jesus) tells them to share with Gift of Goodwill (John). We can only imagine, to lift his spirit, to assure him that who and what he proclaimed and prepared the way for, that this hope and longing for the people, especially those people who came out to see and hear and be baptized in the river, has come. The signs are here, now, in Creator’s world.    

           Signs the prophets like Isaiah spoke of, and we also heard in todays’ reading. And not only of human beings restored and well again, but also the land, the wilderness glad and rejoicing in blossom with joy and singing, waters in the wilderness and streams in the desert, burning sand - a pool, thirsty ground - springs of water, haunt of Jackals - a swamp, dry grass - reeds and rushes. And a highway, a Holy Way, a safe way for Creator’s people to travel, to never be lost, to return home with singing, everlasting joy on their heads and gladness in their hearts, sorrow and sighing fleeing away. It’s a beautiful promise from the creator through the prophets. And Creator Sets Free (Jesus) wants Gift of Goodwill (John) to know these signs of the times, promise being fulfilled, the arriving of Creator Sets Free (Jesus) for all people and for all creation.  

           Are these signs of our time we can see with our own eyes and hear with our ears? Are we being invited to see and hear and sense and move through and experience the world differently, to see signs of this hope and longing realized, now?

           People with disabilities have been saying and showing the majority culture that their differences in sight, hearing, mobility, thinking and experiencing the world are not physical weakness, deficit, or loss, but essential to who they are. And these differences are not necessarily a condition for which everyone wants a cure or correction. They offer a different way of experiencing, of sensing, of moving through, of engaging with the world as part of the rich diversity of humanity. Author Amar Peterman, who contracted polio as an orphan in India leading to irreparable damage in his right leg, in an article in Sojourners magazine titled, “My Disabled Body Proclaims the Gospel,” writes, …disability is less about physical “malformation” and more about its place in a society where there is a consensus among able-bodied persons of what is “normal” and “abnormal” - “abled” and “disabled,” “excluded” and “embraced.” …This social process is what disability studies often call “ableism.” Instead, …Attention to the divine ways God meets disabled persons through their bodies will open our eyes to encounter God in new ways. …Therefore, we ought to embrace disabled bodies as a gift from God that both reveals divine action in the world and expands the fullness of image-bearing creation.

           Truly, we have much to learn from the disabled persons through whom God chooses to reveal a divine message. Rather than reflexively understanding disabled people as objects to be healed, our churches ought to be welcoming, accessible, and empathic places for disabled individuals to find rest, join fully in communion, and share their stories of God’s work in their life with the community. New signs of the times in Creator’s world. The Advent of new ways of sensing, experiencing, and moving through the world as diverse bodies in hope and longing for these signs of the times in inclusion, wellbeing and wholeness of all people and all creation in Creator Sets Free (Jesus).

           And do we sense signs of creation’s resilience, of the land, the earth, restoring, protecting, healing itself, and also with the help of human action? Seeking these signs of the times brought me back to Elin Kelsey’s book, Hope Matters. Rarely seen and heard signs in the news, many efforts are being realized to protect and restore and be in partnership with the earth’s own resilience. The growing action and resilience of   Indigenous communities reclaiming control and building on millennia of conservation holds the hope of more lands, waters, air and creatures protected and restored, provided communities are not given impossible choices between economic development and survival or conservation and protection of the earth. Kelsey’s book is a primer for changing the way we think, being mindful and aware, sensing, engaging and moving through the world differently to not miss the signs of the times that point to the earth’s resilience and our potential partnership with the earth and one another in building on that hope with new stories, with empathy, kindness and compassion, creativity and humility, in the advent of a shared and better future for all creation. These are other signs of the times to sense and share.

           Creator Sets Free (Jesus) shares with Gift of Goodwill (John) and their followers, with the crowds around them including those who came out to see a prophet and to hear their prophecy, and now also with us, different signs of the times to observe as truth of Creator’s Advent and hope for the future; in the wellbeing of those who suffer on the margins, without sight, hearing, voice, community, healthcare, dignity, life, never hearing the good story. Imagine waking to an economic and business update that used these, the relieving of people’s suffering as the measure of positive economic outlook and what is to come. The wellbeing and recovery of the earth, its lands and waters and wilderness and desert places restored as critical signs of the times to watch for, a highway of a hoped for and hope-filled future. Give me this report of these signs of the times anytime! As Creator Sets Free (Jesus) invites us in hope, look for, listen, sense and share these signs of new life with others. And as the author of James instructs, Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of Creator Sets Free (Jesus). The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. 8You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of Creator Sets Free (Jesus) is near. 9Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of Creator. Great Spirit, let it be so, in all our relations. Amen.