“Hope from a Fig Tree” Luke 21:25-36
Delivered to Church for the Highlands
The First Sunday of Advent, Sunday, December 2, 2012
I drove to and from Lake Providence for a meeting yesterday. The last time I was there was August, with our youth, as they passed out book bags to children before the school year started. The drive from I-20 in Tallulah up Highway 65 to Lake Providence is memorable. For starters, it is one speed trap after another. You really have to watch it when you go through Transylvania, as what comes out of hiding are not vampires, but highway patrol. Knowing that Kyle Kelley had already been ticketed twice on this highway, I slowed down. Way down. I remember driving slow enough then to watch the corn grow. At least, it felt that way. The corn was as high and thick as I have ever seen it, making me feel like I was in the midst of a corn maze. Yesterday, however, things looked different. The lush beauty of corn stalks of summer had disappeared and what appeared now was the open sky, one breaking from the dusty, brown sod and littered by dried out corn stalks and a few still tall in the ground that were missed or forgotten. The suffocating feel of the maze had given way to the nakedness of the field.
As I drove by, I thought of the cycle of nature and the patience it takes for someone to work the land. The field was seemingly quiet and hopeless. The Delta soil, so rich and treasured, appeared unproductive and neglected. A couple of seasons and some measure of patience, however, will produce the security of the stalk, days once again surrounded by abundance. Still, in the midst of what is missing, it is hard to have hope for the harvest.
Jesus, even though a carpenter by trade, knew a few things about hope for the harvest. As he walked along with his disciples, he was interacting with their questions about the coming of the Kingdom of God, one they thought looked vastly different from the one he had been talking about mostly in parables. They had it pictured one way, remembering the abundant fields of their past, when things were going their way and when they were surrounded by the blessings of God. Now, and for hundreds of years back, all they had seen was the desolation of captivity. No, they weren’t living in the foreign land of exile any longer, but the fields of their promise land were, well, land without any visible evidence of promise. Their lives were filled with suffering, struggle, hardships, and all the anxiety that comes from living with a conquering army in your midst. Yes, the prophets had said to hang on, to wait for the Messiah who would come soon, but the decaying stalks of what once was all around them had to make them wonder if things would ever get better.
It is into this context that Jesus entered. It is into this climate of darkness, barrenness, and discouragement that Jesus arrived. And he did so with such raw emotion and crafty language that he refreshed their memory of what God can do. For those with ears open to hear and eyes wanting to see, Jesus taught and demonstrated that what they had been longing for had arrived. It was near, as close to them as flesh and blood. And there was more arrival to come, as he would remind them. The rest of God’s kingdom was on its way soon, just as were the buds of the fig tree. The kingdom of God’s full arrival would continue to come, to arrive on their scene, to be near.
I love to read the sermons and speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. They are filled with the kind of hope we have been looking at here today. You can just hear and feel it in his words. Maybe you heard them directly here in Shreveport. His words of inspiration to millions of African-Americans and so many others were deeply grounded in a theology of hope. Listen to the hope he had discovered and pointed others to in his words: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree, and, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.” In another sermon, just before being slain, he revealed his source of hope again, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead, . . . But it really doesn’t matter to me now because I’ve been to the mountaintop… And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.” ( )
We may not have Roman soldiers patrolling our streets in our daily lives, but we all know what it is like to be in captivity. We know what it feels like to be in the dark. We, if we have had any experience in this world at all, have had our hearts broken. We have suffered pain, experienced loss, grown inpatient, experienced or witnessed injustice, lost our way, hoped without result. These times of fiscal cliffs, shrinking dollars, extreme weather, random violence, and unrest in the middle east cause us to look at the fig tree of our times with extreme disappointment. We walk past it’s inherent promise of God without any expectation any more. Could it be that we no longer see what it is becoming? Could it be that we are so busy walking or hurrying past this tree that we recognize when it is about to bloom? Maybe we see the kingdom of God there in our pathway, but we want a quick fix right now rather than working to care for it and participate in bringing it to fruition for our good and that of the world.
A fig tree is what hope looked like for Jesus. Jesus is what hope looked like for them. Today, we are invited to look at both of them to find hope for our lives. What has been your source of hope in your life? Has it been something with the face of Lincoln, Grant, or maybe Benjamin Franklin? Have you been looking for hope in a drug or in what comes out of a bottle? Are you looking for it in a person, a job, a status, a market, or maybe a President? Some people pursue hope in shopping. If I just had this or that, then I will feel better about my future. We enslave ourselves to the bondage of debt for the present with a misguided hope for the future. Are you looking for hope in one of these ways, or another? If so, have you found it? If not, are you willing to stop for a while this season to see hope in a old tree that everyone thought was finished giving life?
The season of Advent provides us with opportunity for quiet reflection in the midst of bustling noise. It provides us with a glimmer of light in the long hours of darkness. It’s words of hope, peace, love, and joy stand out to us in glorious simplicity from the flash and dash of the season. This season of anticipation reminds us that the best things are worth waiting for; that they can show up in a manger instead of a mansion, in weakness rather than power, and in hearts rather than thrones. It is here, near, and yet to be.
Frederick Buechner wrote these words about the kingdom of God: We glimpse it at those moments when we find ourselves being better than we are and wiser than we know. We catch sight of it when at some moment of crisis a strength seems to come to us that is greater than our own strength. The Kingdom of God is where we belong. It is home, and whether we realize it or not, I think we are all of us homesick for it. (http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/kingdom-of-god) This first Sunday of Advent, you and I, are invited to come home.
Audio of this sermon: