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Friday, 26 November 2021 18:39

The First Sunday of Advent - 2021

Written by Fr Bill Burt SVD

Bill Burt 150In Australia and New Zealand, we are  familiar with the presence of people on TV using sign language. When an important announcement is made, the speaker is accompanied by an interpreter who uses sign language to speak to the deaf audience.  AUSLAN,  the Australian Sign Language,  has evolved from British and Irish sign languages brought here in the 1800s.

Signing, using facial, hand and body gestures, is a vital form of communication. Of course, though, there are uncountable other signs that constantly communicate messages to us. Colours such as red, green and amber speak. Stick figures indicating men and women are familiar. And there are so many things in nature that are signs of changing weather, and so on.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about signs. Using shock treatment, in this passage he focuses dramatically on negative ones, calling people to take note of these and to respond appropriately. He was addressing people living thousands of kilometres from us, who were in a cultural environment very different to ours. Given that reality, I wonder what we can take from his teaching that is relevant to us, in Australia and New Zealand, at the beginning of Advent, 2021?

Jesus urged his listeners to observe the signs of their times, but he did more than that. He urged them to try to interpret those signs and to learn from these. He wanted his listeners to look at what was happening in their world, through the eyes of faith.

Jesus talked about wars, ecological disasters, pandemics and all kinds of suffering. In doing so, he invited his listeners to consider what God might be saying to them through these seemingly cataclysmic signs. Lifted out of their biblical context, it sounds as though Jesus was predicting an imminent end of the world. That didn’t happen. And it’s an interesting historical fact that over and over again people have interpreted signs of their times as indications of a pending Armageddon.

Signs can be seen in different ways. I love that little quotation, “Two men looked through prison bars. One saw mud, the other stars.” It could be said that both men had incomplete views. There were signs, which were  both cheerless and cheerful, pessimistic and optimistic.

Using the God-given gift of common sense let’s look at our world and ourselves, not through those proverbial “rose-coloured glasses”, nor with eyes hindered by cataracts that have blurry, dull vision. Common sense and faith are good friends. They help us to be realistic, but always clinging to hope…. Every time Mass is celebrated, the priest speaks of  “the blessed hope” in the Eucharistic Prayer.

As hope-filled realists, let’s go forward, noticing signs, and at the same time being signs of faith.