May the Lord, when he comes, find us watching and waiting, Amen
On Friday we found ourselves in Canadian Tire; this is not an unknown happening on our day off. We went in search of Christmas gifts and came away only with Christmas lights. One set was a huge reel which is, I understand, to be attached to the front fence. The second set was much smaller, but at the same price and is intended for the deck. On Black Friday we really only got one set of lights that could be called a bargain. As consumers, we had fallen into the trap that assures us it is important to spend money at this time of year.
The first reading from the prophet Jeremiah describes how he was called by God to speak to the people of Judah during difficult times in the life of the nation when there were both political and religious tensions. He had seen a return to the worship of God brought about by King Josiah. However, when the king was killed in battle the people returned to the worship of pagan gods. Later in 587, when Babylon took over Jerusalem, and many of the people went into exile, Jeremiah left for Egypt. It was during these challenging times that Jeremiah was to prophesy.
This then provides the context for the promise of God: to raise up ‘a righteous Branch’ who would execute justice and righteousness, when Judah would be saved and Jerusalem would live in safety. Jeremiah wanted to announce in the worst of times the love of God for the people. The reference to the Branch speaks of a king or messiah from the line of David; either was expected to be both just and righteous. As we read in the verses following this passage, God’s covenant with the people is for all time, or until the beginning of the messianic era. It is for this reason that this passage is used as we enter the season of preparation for the coming of Christ, the Messiah.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus speaks of the coming destruction of the Temple. Earlier in the chapter, Jesus warns that his followers will be persecuted by religious and civil authorities. And although there will be wars and insurrections the end will not follow immediately.
Like Jeremiah, Jesus also speaks of coming unnatural events which will result in confusion and not knowing what will happen next. The Son of Man (in the person of Christ) will come to assume control. At this point, God’s act of freeing the chosen people will be near. This redemption, like the greening of trees (demonstrating that summer is near), will mean the ‘kingdom of God is near’. Jesus urges people not to be so absorbed (weighed down) with day-to-day living that they are unready for the day when it comes.
The parable of the fig tree is the usual type of parable that has us trying to figure out an ending we hadn’t expected. Rather it comes as much more as an observation and warning. It announces the coming of the Son of Man and calls those who are listening to both see the signs and be ready. Jesus informs us that the arrival, the advent, the presence and the power of the kingdom of God are all indicated by such indications. Like the leaves on the fig tree, these signs can show us our redemption and as children of the kingdom, we are meant to be looking for these clues or warnings.
The next part of the reading relates to people knowing fear, and that earth and heaven will be traumatized; in fact, we are constantly going through times when this is an everyday reality in the world. Our own Province has been all too aware of that this year, and I’m not even referring to the pandemic. First, we had very hot weather that caused the deaths of many people. And in the last couple of weeks, we have been dealing with the flooding and washouts caused by persistent heavy rain. Once again today we are experiencing another storm, and yet another is coming in a day or two. These may add to the heartache of those whose homes and farms have been destroyed or damaged.
In the gospel passage, Jesus is urging patience to the new Christian community that is taking shape and waiting for the day of the Lord. Patience, endurance and trust are what are required for all followers of Christ, in all aspects of our lives. We have to wait for promises yet to the kept, for patience with enduring sickness, patience as we come to terms with broken relationships, patience for unrealized expectations and hopes, even patience when our patience is exhausted.
Advent is about waiting, about being patient, about not anticipating the gift that can come to us afresh each December 25th. As kids most of us remember being impatient to leave school or start work, as we grow older the things we have to be patient for change, but we still have to work at being patient.
As children of the kingdom, we have to be patient in waiting for the signs, in living into the Gospel, and of course, we have to be patient in the life of the Church, as well as being patient as individuals.
Parallel to patience is the concept of closeness; that the kingdom is near is another theme of the fig tree parable. The kingdom is near, it is now, and the Church has to be constantly reminded of this reality. We should watch for the signs, and then we will see our redemption drawing near, is in fact already near.
As for Christmas shopping, we did some more on Saturday; not sure if any were bargains. However what is more important, material presents or a gift that costs nothing and is beyond price?
For Christmas brings the righteous Branch, the Messiah, in the person of Jesus Christ. The birth of Jesus Christ is the centre point of our lives, it is why we offer presents, eat turkey and have a break from work and routine. The birth of Jesus Christ gives us hope and joy and a sense of purpose in a world that often doesn’t seem to know where it is going. The birth of Jesus Christ is the light, the joy, the meaning, the purpose for our lives, and for now, at least we must be patient, we must wait; we must be ready and prepared to receive the greatest gift of all.