I got a joke for you: (I will use Germans, since I am of German descent.) There were two old Germans out arguing one day. The one German said, “Those are deer tracks!” The other said, “No, those are moose tracks!” They stood there and argued and argued over who was right. The question is, “Who WAS right?” Well, we’ll never know, because they got ran over by a train.
In our gospel reading for today, Jesus is talking all about signs. Jesus is talking about looking for signs of the coming of the end. It may seem weird that we would be talking about the end of the world at the beginning of the new church year. And it may seem weird that we would be talking about the end of the world when we are starting Advent, the time when we are anticipating the coming of Christ to the world. But weird or not, that is our reading for this Sunday.
Jesus tells us to look for signs in our world. He uses the things that the people would have known, things like the fig tree. Jesus uses the natural progression of the tree to help people realize that the coming of the messiah will occur within the workings of daily life. He tells the people to look to things and try to read the signs. But the thing that we miss in the reading for today is the part that happens just before today’s reading. You see, the disciples were looking at the wonderful buildings and temples in the city, and although they looked big and beautiful, Jesus was saying that these buildings would tumble. The signs that the disciples were to be looking for would not be found in the temples where the people would expect to find the signs, they would be found in the wilds, where they would be least expected.
Jesus would not be found in the temples. The messiah was not to be held in the glorious buildings. And looking for the savior in the established places would be futile. The places where the savior is SUPPOSED to be will end up in an empty search. The buildings will fall, and the people will still be searching.
The poor old Germans in joke were searching. But they were searching in the wrong place. They were searching moose and deer, but they were not looking in the right place. They were looking at the tracks that were obvious to them, but the obvious tracks were not going to lead to the end the old Germans desired. Looking for deer and moose by following train tracks led to a disastrous end. And Jesus would point out that the most obvious ways of searching are not necessarily the best ways.
Anyone who has gone hunting knows that looking for the trails of deer or other game requires some knowledge of the animal. The person who is tracking has to be aware of the subtle changes that surround them. They have to be aware of the broken branches and the leaves that have been eaten. It is by following the subtle signs, not the big glaring tracks of steel that will lead hunters to they quarry. All that following the large, man-made tracks will do is scare the animals away and lead to dissapointment.
Granted, Jesus does talk about some big signs; “The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light;” but these are still the natural signs. These are the signs out in the world. We have to be out of the building to be able to see the signs Jesus speaks of. We have to be out in the wilderness to see the subtlety of the changing of the fig tree. The buildings will fall apart, but the signs of Jesus coming are not found in the buildings!
For the people of biblical times, this would be a surprise. You may remember I have said that the Messiah was supposed to be a warrior king. The Messiah was supposed to come in and clear away all of the peoples’ enemies by a show of force. To the people of biblical times, kings, leaders, rulers would all have palaces and great monuments; and it would be in these monuments that the king would be found. So for Jesus to be telling the people that the great temples will fall and that the Messiah will not be found there is quite shocking.
But for us, this should not be too surprising. We, the ones who know the story from our vantage point two-thousand year in the future should comfortable with this. We should know not to look for Christ in the “usual” spots. We should be used to finding the tomb empty. We should be used to finding the King eating with the tax collectors, beggars, and prostitutes. We should be comfortable with the idea of the Son of God being born in a stable. We should know – as a part of our being – that we need to look of our Savior “outside” of the expected places. But so often, we find ourselves in the place of the old Germans, we are looking for moose and deer but end up following the train tracks. Now granted, the train tracks are easier to follow, but those old Germans are never going to find what they are looking for.
So often we are surrounded by people who think they have found the right signs, and they are very willing to do all kinds of things to follow those tracks. They are willing to spend two weeks sleeping in a tent to be the first to purchase their savior. They are willing to spray pepper-spray on others in order to grab their savior out of the hands of another. They are willing to put those around them in jeopardy just so they can get what they feel they deserve. But I have trouble believing that our Savior is going to be found on an X-Box 360 or appear on a waffle made with the $2 waffle iron, the acquisition of which sent three people to the hospital. I have trouble believing the Savior will appear in the Summer House in the
Alps or the Winter House in Cancun. I have trouble believing our Savior will appear in any monument we build to ourselves, even if we say we are building it to the glory of God.
The problem with the “expected” tracks is they WILL always lead to SOMETHING. Who knows, maybe the old Germans will convince themselves that trains are actually moose and deer. But just because they call the train a moose, doesn’t make it a moose. Just because we have been told that church is a place we are to find comfort, doesn’t mean that our search for Christ should end when we are comfortable. We can try to convince ourselves of this, but then we are left trying to chew on a train instead of having venison.
Christ calls us to look for signs. Christ calls us to search. But Christ calls us to look for the signs in the wilderness. Christ calls us to look beyond what our world would tell us. Christ is not found on the cross. Christ is not found in the tomb. Christ is not found in the palace. Christ is not even found in the comfort of the maternity ward. We find Christ in the wilderness. We find Christ on the fringes. We find Christ in those places that most of society would choose to avoid.
In searching for Christ this Advent, where will you search? What wilderness are you being drawn to? The tracks you are following; will they lead to Christ or to a train wreck? Christ is calling us to him. Christ wants us to find him! Christ will give us the opportunities we need if we will only search. The search will probably be difficult, but I am sure the results will be worth it! And if our search ends up sending us headlong into an on-coming train, then I am also sure Christ will be there to help us back on our way.