When the crowds were increasing, he began to say, “This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.”
The Sign of Jonah
I can still feel the warmth from all of those candles. Every Christmas Eve growing up we would attend the late candle light service. We would sit in the balcony and then as is tradition, during the singing of O Holy Night through Silent Night, along with the entire congregation, we would light our candles. The heat from all of those candles would rise up into the balcony where we were then standing, and you could feel it all around you. My whole body seemed enveloped in an unmistakable 10 degree swing, as if stepping into a sacred sauna. Light and warmth.
Darkness and cold. That is the opposite of the feeling I just described. It is also the sign of Jonah that Jesus refers to here in the 11th chapter of Luke. Imagine you are Jonah. This ancient prophet was flung from his boat during a storm into the icy sea and then swallowed by a giant sea creature for three days. Is there a colder darker place than the belly of a great fish at night? Perhaps only the cold, dark, and death-ridden stone tomb in which Jesus was placed after the crucifixion for three days rivals Jonah. There is a reason why Jesus pairs these two images, the sign of Jonah and his own tomb. The darkness and cold and threat of death is palpable. But as sons and daughters of the resurrection we know how the story ends, both stories. Christ rises from the tomb and Jonah heads to the desert city of Nineveh. Light and warmth returning once more.
The sign of Jonah is a sign for Advent and Christmas as well. This is the darkest and coldest time of year. Every day that we travel closer to the winter solstice we can feel the light disappearing and the winds howl more bitterly. Soon, however, we will step into church on Christmas Eve, and we will light candles. And we will feel it. Our bodies will be enveloped both by the warmth and brightness of those candles and our souls will be warmed by the light, life, and love of Christ
The Sign of Christmas
Rev. Daniel Joyner Miller