I hope you saw the signs. I trust you are ready. Sunday is the first day of Advent.
Yes, it’s still November, but all the signs point to the coming of Christmas. Retail saw it coming but doesn’t respect the start date.
Advent is all about reading the signs.
While Advent candles introduce symbolic hints of hope, peace, love, and joy, we humans often search for other tangible signs.
That search was one I commonly observed while working as a pediatric hospital chaplain (2001-2008). One of the most vivid examples I recall was a family I met in our pediatric unit as they sat with their daughter, Laci.
“The doctors never expected her to live more than a few hours,” Laci’s dad told me, “but now she’s 6 months old.”
Placing a pacifier in his baby’s mouth he said, “I knew different. God gave me a sign.”
“Tell me more,” I said.
In the next few minutes, the doting dad described the fretful prayer he’d voiced in the hospital garden moments after hearing the poor prognosis.
“When I finished praying,” he said, “a butterfly fluttered around me, and I knew it must be a sign.”
“Yes,” Laci’s mother added. “And God must be watching her because now we see butterflies everywhere.
“It even happened again yesterday.”
“Again?” I asked.
“I was talking with a friend by phone,” she explained. “My friend has a picture of Laci on her desk. Suddenly my friend said, ‘Oh wow, a butterfly just landed on Laci’s picture.’”
“Chaplain,” Laci’s mom whispered, “I’d never told my friend about the butterfly sign.”
Like Laci’s parents, many of us seek a sign from God to answer our questions during desperate times.
“Please, God,” we’ll ask, “if you want me to marry this woman, let it rain tomorrow.” Or in another instance, maybe we’ll wonder if a cloud or piece of toast really resembles the face of Jesus.
When people ask me if God can speak to them through signs, incidents or dreams, I’ll sometimes tell them, “I suppose God can speak through Barry Manilow if you’re listening, but there is a more important question.
“How does the sign make you feel? Hopeful? Or anxious?”
If the feeling is one of desperation or anxiety, I challenge them to consider whether they might be creating the sign out of their own need.
When someone is creating a sign out of their own need, they’ll use the sign to insist on getting their desired outcome. Worse yet, they’ll imply that others aren’t spiritual if they don’t see their sign as proof of God’s involvement.
However, if the sign is really a “God thing,” as I’ve also heard it described, then it will inspire you. You will feel hopeful and peaceful. The sign won’t prove you’re getting your way, but it should be convincing proof that you are not alone.
The Christmas story tells me we aren’t alone. It’s the sign the angels gave the shepherds in bright neon with surround sound.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
“And this shall be a sign unto you, you will find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
By the way, I followed Laci through three more hospitalizations and was privileged to witness all the signs of a healthy development.
As for Laci’s dad, he kept repeating what Joseph likely said of his son, “What a wonder!”
“No Small Miracles” is Chaplain Norris’ book about his pediatric chaplaincy. It is available on Amazon or at www.thechaplain.net. Contact him at email@example.com or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or via voicemail (843) 608-9715.
This article originally appeared on The Ledger: Advent is all about reading the signs