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How About a Sign?

Again YHWH spoke to Ahaz, saying, “Ask a sign of YHWH your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” ~ Isaiah 7:10

It was Plum Island and the birder staring intently into a thicket had the requisite expensive optics (at a time when only the most serious birders made the investment), so chances were good that the bird being seen was worth a look.

“So what do you have.”

“Just a House Sparrow.”

Huh? Why would a good birder in a good location be looking at such a common bird? There is a good reason that is painfully logical. The definition of uncommon is that it is not common, therefore the process involves looking at all the common birds to find the uncommon one. You can’t know before observation which it will be. Birding is a knowledge that can only come from experience. If you have cracked a field guide, you will be overwhelmed by information. How are you going to identify the particular bird in front of you without memorizing all the information about the several hundred species in the book? Aside from learning tools about classification in order to narrow your search, there is a simple task to start with: become familiar with the common species. At any given time in any particular location there are probably no more than two dozen species that are a given. So get to know them well. Yes, study those plain, boring (dare I say annoying?) House Sparrows. Get to know their sounds, their behaviors, and their habits. That is how the one bird that looks, sounds, or acts a little bit different will get you attention. I’m convinced that the 50 to 100 House Sparrows that live in the hedges across the street from my house are really a couple thousand decoys taunting me to find the Dickcissel that I’m convinced is hiding among them. Sure, the odds are long, but the fact that I know these birds thoroughly makes it very likely that should that rarity show up that I’ll notice it instantly.

When Matthew told the story of Jesus’ birth, he pointed out that it was the sign that God had given to Ahaz through Isaiah. It is curious that Ahaz didn’t dare seek a sign. Perhaps he was someone content to sort through the familiar to find the miraculous needle in the haystack. In many ways, that was what the Nativity story was. Sure, there was a magical star and there were singing throngs of angels, yes, those things are far from typical. But not everyone saw the signs did they? If you are going to see the remarkable, unique sign, you have to spend the time getting to know the familiar. Perhaps the gift of salvation you are seeking is already lurking right among the everyday gifts that are too easy to ignore.

Prayer: Great gift-giver, we’ll take a sign, thanks (even if you already sent it and we just need to notice). Amen.


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