The Righteous Branch and the Covenant with David
14 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. 15 In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 16 In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
The Coming of the Son of Man
25 “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26 People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28 Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
The Lesson of the Fig Tree
29 Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30 as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
Exhortation to Watch
34 “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
I LOVE the Advent readings!
They are so dramatic.
Full of foreboding, full,of menace, even threat.
It's just as well the first reading this morning, from Jeremiah spoke of hope.
Hope and promise.
The days are surely coming when I will fulfil the promise...
It's important to have those words of hope and promise ringing in our ears when we come to the gospel.
People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world..
I can't help wondering, though, whether those words have actually lost their effect on us today.
The thought of terrible things coming upon the world.
We've already seen so many awful things, that in many ways, there's little that surprises us or shocks us.
Conflict in Afghanistan, in Israel and Palestine.
Refugees trudging along desolate landscapes to find shelter in camps seething with humanity, rife with disease.
The homeless, the hungry, those trapped in the grip of poverty.
We've been witness to the suffering of so many of God's children.
And we've heard the warnings of worse to come:
Of the ravaging of the earth.
Of Global warming.
Of the spread of bacteria that can't be controlled with medicine currently available to us.
In many ways we are well acquainted with horror.
So perhaps we don't fear the end of the world in quite the same way that the early Christians did.
But we can and do get worn down by all that goes on in our world.
By all the places where there are few signs of hope, by all the people who seem to lurch from one crisis to another, whose expectations are so low that they have stopped hoping for things to get better.
This foreboding reading becomes for us, not so much fanciful but all too real.
And often, our way of dealing with such awful reality is to put our heads down and plough on regardless.
No wonder the great British phrase: keep calm... so appeals.
Keep calm and carry on...
That's the way we deal with so much of life, with the things we can control and with the things that we can't.
Keep calm and carry on.
It's almost as though we believe that keeping a low profile will somehow lend us immunity from all that harms and threatens our tenacious hold on security.
Acknowledging threat or crisis allows it to become real.
We cope by ignoring the signs that are all around us.
And yet the gospel urges us to stay vigilant.
“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life"
Be on guard the gospel exhorts.
We are encouraged not to be weighed down by the awful signs that are all around us.
Not to seek anaesthetisation through drink or drugs or other mind numbing solutions.
Not to become so inured to all the signs that we expect nothing else but catastrophe.
But to be on guard.
Our gospel today is counter intuitive.
Goes completely against the grain.
Shakes us out of our default mode.
"Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
At this stage of the 21st century, we might be forgiven for being a little sceptical of those words.
If those words are true, they have been an awful long time in coming to fruition.
And it's hard to keep on hoping for something that seems just as unlikely now as it did to the world 2000 years ago.
Living in hope demolishes all the coping mechanisms we have erected around ourselves, barriers to protect us from the harshness of the world we live in.
And yet the gospel says: Stand up and raise your heads.
Jesus uses a parable to get his message across.
He points to the fig tree.
Fig trees seem to feature throughout scripture, often serving as barometers of prosperity and faithfulness.
Fig trees don't appear out of nowhere.
They take some cultivation.
And they don't bear fruit easily but only after tending and nurture and the passage of time.
They need the space and the patience to be allowed to develop.
The confidence that the wait will be worthwhile.
So it is with the way of God.
God's sense of timing is certainly not ours.
Teilhard de Chardin, a French writer, early last century, expressed it like this:
Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything to reach the end without delay,
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made
by passing through some stages of instability......
and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually;
let them grow, let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on, as though you could be today
what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own goodwill)
will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give our Lord the benefit of your believing
that His hand is leading you, and of your accepting
the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, The Making of a Mind: Letters from a Soldier-Priest 1914-1919 (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), 57.
Trust in the slow work of God
Much easier said than done.
One of my colleagues proclaimed this week: "I'm glad that I'm in a profession that forces us to preach about hope."
That's a pretty profound statement.
We ARE FORCED to preach hope.
Even when all the signs around us point elsewhere.
Even when it seems there is little ground or cause for hope.
We are forced to preach it.
Because the gospel is a gospel of hope.
"Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
The signs all around us, when we have the courage to lift our heads and look, are pretty grim.
And yet we are bound by our faith to be people who have hope.
Hope in the slow work of God.
That is our task this Advent.
To live as people who hope.
To spread that hope.
To invite others to join us in being hopeful in spite of all the evidence that might make us otherwise.
God is already among us.
And, in this season of Advent when we get ready to celebrate that fact again, we lift our heads high, knowing that, against all the odds, we have reason to be hopeful.
Thanks be to God.
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