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Luke 21: 29 - 36
29 And he spake to them a parable; Behold the fig tree, and all the trees;
30 When they now shoot forth, ye see and know of your own selves that summer is now nigh at hand.
31 So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is nigh at hand.
32 Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled.
33 Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away.
34 And take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness, and cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares.
35 For as a snare shall it come on all them that dwell on the face of the whole earth.
36 Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
It is a great gift, one of the gifts of the Spirit, to be able to read and interpret the signs of the times. Jesus in our Gospel reading talks about knowing what time of year it is from looking at the trees and sniffing the air. But Jesus wants us to do more than read the seasons - he wants us to read the signs of the times. God's purposes for the world are being fulfilled, he is saying, so do not be afraid but look for signs of God at work around you, and be ready to respond.
Last week we saw the mess the Church gets into when it fails to read the signs and sends out the wrong signals about honouring women's ministry in the church - a development whose time has clearly come - thereby undermining our credibility in the wider world.
This week Lord Justice Leveson has produced the findings of his enquiry, reading the signs of the times and interpreting how the mood of the public, the interests of newspapers, the freedom of the press, and the need for better regulation, can all somehow be balanced in a workable and credible system.
Eighteen months ago, when this process was beginning, I wrote a letter to the Times, quoting an old Latin motto "Great is truth, and it will prevail," and I said then that at its best the profession of journalism stands four-square for the pursuit of the truth, and that in this country we have some of the best journalism in the world. I still believe that to be true in spite of the revelations by Leveson of outrageous behaviour that "wrought havoc" with innocent people's lives.
In view of these revelations I would still like to see genuine contrition on the part of the editors and proprietors for the behaviour of the press, even though they are understandably fighting against statutory regulation. As a result of all that has been revealed we need a genuinely independent regulator with the power to impose fines and seek redress, one with real teeth, but I remain unconvinced and concerned by the proposal to underpin the regulatory body by statute.
This is not the time or place for a detailed discussion of Leveson's proposals, interesting though they are. I would just point out that Lord Justice Leveson, for all his criticisms of the media, holds a high view of the press. When talking about the 'ethical vacuum' that exists on the internet, he firmly states that newspapers should live and work by an ethical framework because that is what makes them trustworthy and seen by the public as a quality product. It is to those high standards of journalism that Leveson is recalling the press through the recommendations of his report.
If the press can read the signs of the times, as reflected in the Leveson report, and put their house in order, then we shall have a stronger, better media for the future. "Great is the truth and it will prevail."
I believe in all this that there is a link between an individual's integrity, institutional integrity and public trust in the institutions of democratic government. As far as the press is concerned this depends on the journalists promise that they are seeking the truth, reporting accurately and that often their own understanding is incomplete. Falsification and distortion should have no place in the journalistic toolbox. If the newspapers adhere to those fundamental principles, telling the story - what all journalists are committed to doing - becomes in fact a noble task, a contribution to wider social truth and a way of reading and interpreting the signs of the times.
Jesus today, Advent Sunday, is telling us to pay attention and read the signs of our times - to look beneath the surface reality of our world for a deeper spiritual reality, whether it is the gifts of women in ministry, the integrity and freedom of the press in a democratic society, or any of the other challenges that face us. We are challenged to look for what God is doing, where God is leading and to be ready to respond for "great is the truth and it will prevail."