30.11.15

Hope beyond hope or 'figs when the figs have gone'

Rachel Royster artist

I am struggling lately to walk two dogs quickly enough through the allotments for the school run because figs have fallen from overhanging trees there and puppies think pudding is being served and will not walk on.

One of the ancient signs of hope is the fruitfulness of fig trees. Fig tree leaves provide cover for Adam and Eve on the discovery of their nakedness, perhaps a fig tree shelters Jonah as he sulks at God in Ninevah. The Old Testament prophets speak of their hope in terms of the plenty, the abundance, of grape vines and fig trees. Fig trees can live hundreds of years and seem to provide for us in all sorts of ways.

The idea of waiting for something to bear fruit is one we are all familiar with, literal and metaphorical. At Advent we are encouraged more especially to develop a propensity for waiting, to cultivate holy patience, a vision for a God who has all the time in the world and yet at any minute might return as Christ the King just as he once appeared as a refugee baby, taking that same world by surprise.

Jesus speaks of fig trees several times in Luke’s Gospel. In Luke 13, he tells us of a man wanting to cut down his fig tree because it's not produced fruit in three years. The man decides to wait a year longer, tend the plant and its soil and if it still proves unfruitful he will then cut it down. We are always encouraged to push beyond our natural ability to hope, to be patient, to press on into a kind of hope that is almost supernatural. It is by the Holy Spirit, we can cultivate a truly Christian hope. It can be as many as five years before a fig tree begins to bear any decent kind of fruit.

In today's parable, Jesus uses the fig tree to teach us to be patient for the things of God. Those things for which we long, do not come quickly. We are to be watchful, tend the soil, trust the promise, watch for signs, God is still at work, bringing forth the fruit.

Jesus says, “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that the kingdom of God is near.”

Jesus helps us to cultivate hope where others would give up. 

There will be times when “people faint with fear for what is coming upon the world.” But as Jesus-people we are told that when “these things take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” How opposite this is to the posture that's so usual to assume, to take cover, look for shelter, choose the fig leaves and not the fruit. Just like Adam and Eve and Jonah, the first couple obsessed by shame and resorting to blame and the latter Jonah, cross with God who hasn't wiped out his enemies, we too can hide and cower rather than sharing our vulnerability and trusting that something good can come from the biggest, most difficult messes; that the brownest sludge of soil and dung can grow the healthiest tree. 

When others faint with fear, we lift our heads and it is from a posture such as this, that we better see the coming Kingdom.

Jesus helps us to cultivate hope when others would give up.

As Resurrection people we are told “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” We are not to cultivate anxiety or anaethetise with wine. Again a common panacea for the stresses and strains of life can be the tiny fixes that become sedation, self-medication, distraction and compulsion, those things which dull the senses to the signs that God is near.

It is Advent, time to be vigilant then, wide awake, don't miss the light as it bursts into the darkness, be dressed in readiness, Be like those waiting for their master. 

Come out from under fig leaves, look up higher and see the fruit coming!

We will light our first candle this morning, and over three more weeks other small flames will join it.

Where we see a little light we are to tend to it and nourish it. 
Where we see a little soil we are to pray that it's receptive.
Where we see the good beginnings of something somewhere it is God who will cause the growth of it.

Let Christ cultivate in you his patience by the power of His Spirit. 

God's got all the time in the world you know for his is the world and everything in it.

He sometimes even serves up good stuff when the figs have fallen from the trees and there's not a leaf left for shelter, when we feel a bit impoverished.

It took puppy dogs to remind me that next time I'm in a rush again, it might just be I miss the good stuff being served up all around me. 

The future can not be predicted – no one knows the hour, not even the Son of man but in the meantime we are to look about us, left and right and up and down again and point out to one another the good things God is doing.

Let him stop you in your walk with him. 
Slow down for him this Advent ...
....on the school run, the work run, the moments when tubes are leaving, there's bound to be another one. 
Pause a while and count your blessings. 
Feel his hand of healing on your head again...don't miss the good stuff on the way.

Let advent be a journey which makes Christmas more than a destination, let this be the preparation for the coming of God's Kingdom. 

I challenge you to let God turn sticky moments into something very good for him. 

Look up and see the fruit and that perhaps the path before you, littered as it seems to be with all sorts of inconveniences, might just be good things on the road as you travel this Advent season with him.

Amen.

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