Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent 1: have you heard the one about the fig tree?

The first Sunday of Advent doesn't start out as you'd expect.  Here we are, less than 4 weeks away from Christmas and there are no angels, baby showers or cute booties being knit by anxious grandmothers.  Instead we see Jesus, fully grown and teaching in front of the temple in Jerusalem.  (read Luke 21:25-36 here)  Jesus is teaching his disciples about the realities that they are about to face - the temple will soon fall, the whole world will seem to fall apart, and then all heck is gonna break loose.  But don't fret, instead be prepared because only then will He return in all his glory!

Of course, they had no idea what he was talking about, return?  From where?  To where?  Here?  Without the temple?  What a mess.  In the midst of their confusion, he teaches with a parable about a fig tree and sprouts and the change of seasons.

I love how the Son of God uses the simplest of things, like nature, to teach us about the kingdom of God.  I'm grateful that I grew up on a farm, that I know what sheep are really like (trust me, they aren't very bright), that I know what freshly tilled earth smells like (like heaven), I have seen acre after acre of good seed pushing through the earth reaching for the heavens.

Sunday, Nov 25
I also know what a sick plant looks like.  This is a cyclamen, a very sick and sad cyclamen at that!  A quick check of the soil in the pot and I realized it was desperately in need of a drink of water.

This cyclamen lives in our church coffee area and when I saw it, the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it looked miserable.  It actually looked about as good as I felt.  I was anxious about the approaching advent season.  I had been wrestling with God about what I could say to the people of Trinity about Advent - this time of yearning and anticipation... I knew that I needed to hold back from the birth of Jesus, for as much as I wanted to leap into the manger I knew I had spend some time, even if only for a brief while, living in the realities of our brokenness and hurts.
Sunday, Nov 25

It's not that I want to dwell on bad stuff, but I fear we are all too quick to hide our hurts and disappointments from one another and ourselves too for that matter!  It's a whole lot easier to keep busy and jump to the warm fuzzy, cute little baby stuff.  But the Holy Spirit wouldn't let me go there, not yet.  Conversation after conversation with folks in the parish reaffirmed my thinking.

I don’t know about you but sometimes I feel like the Hebrew people in Egypt – frustrated and upset – certain that God has forgotten all about us…Jesus’ disciples, Paul included, figured that Christ would come again in THEIR lifetimes… that was only 1970 or so years ago!  Come, Lord Jesus, Come already!  How much longer, Lord?  How much longer will your people have to languish here in the wilderness?  We are yearning for your Kingdom to come...for you to dwell among us.

Tuesday, November 27
And yet, I saw hope in the cyclamen...because even thought it was obviously in distress, it was also creating new shoots.  In the midst of its demise, it was putting forth new life.  I wondered, if instead of the compost pile all it really needed was fresh water and more sun light.

Two days later and I took another picture, and lo and behold, things were starting to perk up already.  What had been lost, was found, what had once been a dire consequence of poor horticulture practices, was now a plant on the mend...there was hope again.

Eugene Peterson in The Message Study Bible notes on Luke 21 wrote these words to both challenge and encourage us:
In this chapter [Luke 21] Jesus recites a litany of disasters that are most surely going to befall us: wars and insurrections, earthquakes, famines, epidemics of disaster, accusation and imprisonment, hate, betrayal at the hands of parents and children, close relatives and good friends.  Jesus touches base with everything that can possibly go wrong: natural disasters, political disasters, social disruption, personal betrayals.   
Does he have it all together when he says, "Don't be frightened in this very frightening history, in this very frightening world, in these very frightening circumstances"?  Does he make sense? 
Yes, he makes sense.  He's proclaiming a way of life that has its feet on the ground, that's reasonable and whole and practical but that's vastly different and superior to what we're used to.  Death isn't the worst thing that can happen to us.  Suffering isn't the worst thing that can happen to us.  Rejection isn't the worst thing that can happen to us.  Poverty and illness aren't the worst things that can happen to us 
The worst thing is to be without meaning, without love, without purpose, without hope - without God.  But you aren't without God, ever.  You aren't cut off from him, ever.  The simplest act of faith puts you in relationship with him.  So don't be terrified, for not a hair of your head will perish.  (The Message Study Bible, page 1626)
Of course, now this wrestling match I've been having with the Holy Spirit makes sense.  I can’t take us to the manger without acknowledging the deep need that we all have for these words of truth… otherwise, I help to perpetuate the rush we have to Christmas all in the name of falalalala-lalalala.  

Sunday, December 2
Thanks to the parable of the cyclamen, I have been reminded of how important it is to drink deeply from the living water...turn toward the sun/Son...and see challenges as an opportunity for new growth - a chance to be creative and even risk some.  And trust.  Trust that God is always, always with us.

Christ will come again some day, this is a given.  In the meanwhile I will do my best to live my life as a prayer, for that is what Jesus said to do; 
Be on your guard. Don’t let the sharp edge of your expectation get dulled by parties and drinking and shopping. Otherwise, that Day is going to take you by complete surprise, spring on you suddenly like a trap, for it’s going to come on everyone, everywhere, at once. So, whatever you do, don’t go to sleep at the switch. Pray constantly that you will have the strength and wits to make it through everything that’s coming and end up on your feet before the Son of Man.  (Luke 21:34-36  The Message)
yearning for that day when Christ will come again,

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