To set the stage, I need you to think about the signs along an interstate highway – like on I-64. If you get on the highway headed West – what will the sign FACING you say? St. Louis… and obviously, if you head east, the signs facing you would say Louisville. In other words – the signs tell you where you’re going, right?
Many years ago, a group of us were driving to New York to a ski resort. Yeah – I know – we could have just gone to Paoli, but well – they actually have SNOW in New York. We left on a Friday right after work and drove until the early hours of the morning. We got somewhere near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border when we stopped for gas. It was foggy, because of the snow melting in the area – and it was dark – and we weren’t familiar with the area. So – whoever was driving got turned around in the dark and ended up getting on the ramp headed in the wrong direction. Most of us were half- asleep, so it wasn’t until 15 minutes later that somebody looked behind us at a sign on the other side of the highway and noticed the signs said Erie, PA….wait a minute…that’s where WE’RE supposed to be headed. That’s when we noticed the signs on our side said ‘Cleveland, OH’ and Syracuse, NY.
Not much you can do when there’s no off-ramps – we had to keep driving as fast as we could in the wrong direction to find a way to get back on track. For 22 miles, we drove the wrong way – wishing to find an off-ramp.
All of us at times find ourselves headed in the wrong direction, don’t we?…. Imagine our lives as a highway. One way leads to heaven and the other way leads to …well….the other place.
When we’re young, we rode with our parents and grandparents on this road to heaven. They showed us how to live. They showed us how to read the signs. They were responsible for keeping us pointed in the right direction. Then – we got our own driver’s license… kinda like Confirmation… we got to drive ourselves – which means WE get to choose which direction we want to travel. Often – we might see the off-ramps and take an excursion to see what else is out there and completely lose sight of the highway to heaven. I’d venture to say this probably describes many of us here… we got the right upbringing, but when it came to making our religion our own, many of us took the off-ramp, and headed in the wrong direction. Many never returned. Many of us keep driving in that wrong direction thinking “someday” we’re going to have to get turned around…someday we’ll get our lives back on track.
Problem is - whenever we get pointed in the wrong direction, it’s hard to get turned around. Often something in our lives seems to force us to push on and on. Every day just brings us more of the same – work, kids, responsibilities – they keep us too busy to even THINK about making any changes to our lives. We can’t find an off-ramp. That’s what Advent is for us: an off-ramp. The Church in her wisdom gives us a brand-new start – like a chance to re-boot and start over. These four weeks are an invitation to get off the rat-race; to look at where we are, where we’ve been, and most importantly – where we are headed. If we would just stop and READ THE SIGNS, we can SEE where our lives are leading. The signs along the highway TELL us. If we don’t like where we’re going, perhaps it’s time to turn around.
See – Jesus talks about ‘there will be signs’ – these are signs of the coming of the Kingdom of God. These signs are all around us even now …seriously... God puts signs all around us to guide us back to the highway to heaven… thing is – they’re all facing away from heaven – just like the signs for Louisville only point West…. so unless we turn to look TOWARD heaven, we won’t be able to read the signs.
Normally in Advent, one of the first words we hear is “Repent”. I’m going to impress you with my vast knowledge of the Greek language… ok – maybe the only word I know in Greek: Metanoia. That’s the word in the New Testament which is translated as ‘repent’.
Metanoia is more than we typically think of when we think of ‘Repent’. It is a COMPLETE CHANGE OF MIND…. You might say – it is to turn completely around – to go the other direction.
This is what we’re called to do in Advent. Pull off the road – look at the map – look at where we’ve been and where we are headed…. And when we realize just how far off course we are, we can metanoia… turn around… and get back on the highway to heaven.
How can we keep ourselves going in the right direction? This is where Psalm 25 comes in: Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me.
God has given us the directions… he even came down here and died on the cross to point us in the right direction. Pray this psalm often – in every situation – God show me which way to go. God teach me what I need to know. Keep me pointed in the right direction. Open my eyes to read all the signs you place around me….even the ones behind me.