Here's the context for our first reading:
Ahaz is king of Judah, the southern kingdom,
with Jerusalem as its capital.
An alliance between Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel
has laid siege to Jerusalem.
Ahaz has decided to ask for help from Assyria—
a ruthless nation bordering the northern kingdom—
instead of relying on God.
Seeing the danger of that alliance with Assyria,
Isaiah challenges Ahaz to ask God for a sign
that everything will eventually turn out well for Judah
without the Assyrians,
but Ahaz has already made up his mind
and refuses Isaiah’s advice.
But Isaiah tells Ahaz about the sign anyway.
He says that “the young woman is with child and shall bear a son,
and shall name him Immanuel,” “God-with-us.”
King Ahaz knows the danger, ignores Isaiah, and goes ahead,
abandoning faithfulness to God for trust in military might.
The signs of Ahaz's time were clear,
and he understood them,
but he refused to pay attention to them.
Ahaz wasn't the first, and won't be the last,
to ignore the signs of the times.
We all show who we are
when we show the kind of power we put our faith in.
We expose our true selves
by the signs we choose to pay attention to.
In his letter to the Romans,
Paul looks back to the Hebrew Scriptures
for signs to show that Jesus is the Messiah.
Matthew does the same thing in his infancy narrative,
shaping the story to make Isaiah's prophecy
look like a 700-year-old prediction of Jesus' birth.
Looking for signs isn't something new,
and it didn't stop with Ahaz or Matthew.
Our country is looking for signs these days.
We're going to have a new President,
and the media is buzzing with stories
about what it's going to be like, basing their predictions
on whichever of the signs they pick to believe in.
Maybe the sign is in the rise and fall of the stock market,
or Donald Trump’s tweets and twitters,
the biographies of appointees for cabinet posts,
or stories of Russian hacking
and billionaire deals with foreign countries.
We all look for signs.
This week we've been keeping a close watch on weather reports,
with their comparisons to the past
and projections for the future,
looking for signs to help us decide
whether we'll even be going out of the house and, if we do,
how many layers of coats and hats and gloves we'll wear.
There are signs to read all over the place.
A friend of mine who had cancer
is always on the watch for signs of a recurrence.
Parents watch their children for signs
of drug use, or porn addiction, or victimization by bullies.
Shoppers look for signs that Christmas gift prices will be cut back.
And people are looking at us Christians for a sign.
They want to see if we're real... or not.
Are we just calling ourselves Christians?
Or are we really doing what Jesus said and did,
really following him?
It seems that I can't go anywhere these days
without someone coming up to me
and giving me an answer to that.
Last week when I stopped in at St. Anne Hospital to visit a patient,
a woman came up and asked if I'm me, and then she said,
“I heard that your church gave a big donation to Beach House.
I've been thinking of coming to Mass with you,” she told me.
At the grocery store, a nurse came up to me and said,
“One of your Holy Spirit people came in to donate blood.”
Someone else told me that one of you
regularly drives your neighbor around
since he can't see to drive any more.
And then I heard that a couple of you
have been up and down the block
shoveling snow for your older neighbors.
People will walk up to me and name one of you
and say they saw you volunteering in all kinds of ways…
at the Peace Coalition demonstrations, at Helping Hands,
with UStogether, with Feed Your Neighbor,
at Pax Christi, with the League of Women Voters.
Because of you, our Holy Spirit Community
is gaining a reputation all over town,
and it's a great reputation.
Some of the signs of our time are truly ominous,
but some of them are hopeful.
Each of you is a reason to celebrate.
By your actions, every day,
day in and day out,
you are living witness to what it means
to be followers of Jesus.
We have one more week to get ready for Christmas…
one more week to plan the food
and clean the house and wrap the gifts,
or if you're gathering somewhere with family or friends,
one more week get the car ready for the trip
and pack it with food and gifts.
No matter—you're ready in the most important way:
it's obvious from your actions,
obvious in the way you live your life.
You are the signs of the times that people are hoping for,
signs of Immanuel—
signs that, indeed, “God is with us.”
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m./Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue
Toledo, OH 43606
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-2006