A few months ago a friend of mine alerted me to an amusing mistake. In Wales, all the road signs have to be written in both Welsh and English, and the local council in Swansea wished to place a new sign at the roadside. So they sent off the following text to a translator: 'No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only'. The sign company received a very prompt reply from the translator, and duly completed the sign. The result was a sign where the English had been translated as: 'I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated.'
I don't think it's stretching it too far to suggest that our lives can look a little bit like that defective sign at times. We can live in a way which is chaotic and fragmented , and the way we live can send a mixed set of unrelated messages to those around us, especially to those who do not have faith.
The way we live our lives, whether we like it or not, acts as a sign that conveys a particular message to those we encounter. If our lives are carefully and consistently worded, they will communicate to others something of the love of God, and of the huge difference that our faith makes to the way we see the world and live in it. And if our lives are well worded, and point in the right way, they will lead others to the Church, where they can become part of Christ's mystical body, built up by receiving him in word and sacrament.
On the other hand, the sign that we make of our lives might say something to others about Christ, but make hard for them to see why they should bother having faith. If we don't live out what we profess, we might even drive others away from Christ and his Church, and make a life of faith something that seems ridiculous or even damaging. Just like that Welsh translation, they might even lead others to conclude that there's no-one in the office: that belief in God is incredible, a kind of fairy story.
When we look at today's Gospel, perhaps we might find some assistance in shaping our lives as a sign that points to the saving power of Christ, and the fundamental importance it has in living life well and living it fully. John the Baptist was a man whose life sent a powerful, unambiguous message to those who came across him. Now, he was a man who had a very strange way of life in the wilderness, and a strange way of dressing. If one of us were to stand in the wilderness dressed in animal skins, we might wonder what kind of message we might send. Yet we can see that the way that John lived his life was perfectly suited for being a herald of Jesus Christ. Any attention that John drew was immediately deflected away from himself to the one that he had come to point out. He was an effective signpost to Jesus because he pointed towards him with his whole life, which illuminated the truth that he spoke when he said 'Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the World'.
The faith that we have, handed down to us from the Apostles, is the most important thing that we have to offer to our world; I'm sure we'd all agree on that. But if we're not careful, the beliefs that we hold can seem to others as simply a set of words with little or no relevance. What brings our faith alive, and makes it attractive to others, is when those words are lived out in every aspect of our lives. It's then that people can see the great richness that life with Christ holds for all those who seek him.