An Advent address (reblogged)

by Richard on November 30, 2012

(Based on Mark 13: 24-37)

At the end of the film Terminator there is a scene in which the heroine, Sarah Connor, is making her escape into the wilderness. She has destroyed the cyborg sent from the future to kill her, but still she knows that the future of the world is bleak. Her thoughts are filled with the impending nuclear war and subsequent chaos. A “gas station” attendant looks up at the sky and says, “There is a storm coming.” She replies simply, and not without irony, “I know.”

Earlier in Mark’s gospel (Mark chapter 11) there is a puzzling little incident in which Jesus goes looking for figs on a fig tree, even though it is not the season. When he finds none he curses the tree, which is later found withered. We find a fig tree again in Mark 13, though this time the tree is bursting into leaf. The fig tree was one of the commonest trees in Palestine and, being deciduous, was a clear indicator of the coming of summer.

In the passage before us, Jesus uses the traditional language of the Hebrews to paint a picture of “the end”, the day of the Lord. Disturbances in the heavens, darkening of sun and moon, wars and famines were all used in Jewish literature as signs of the coming judgement of God. You do not have to take this language literally to see the awe and terror with which the end is predicted. Maybe in an age when we all want to “cosy up” to God, when any notion of mystery is sneered at and the divine Trinity is reduced to a benevolent grandfather, a kindly uncle and a very rapid “Linguaphone” course - maybe we need to reacquire this language and lose the embarrassment which it causes us.

In Jesus’ words it is hard to escape the sense of impending judgement, the gathering of storm clouds. Jesus reminds us that we are a people who live in the shadow of eternity, that everything that is now is merely provisional - our economic security, our knowledge of ourselves and the universe, the spiritual experiences we seek - all must fall before the day of the Lord. We cannot know the day or the hour, and so we must live as though the time were now.

All the signs we see around us, wars, earthquakes, famines should prompt neither fear nor despair, but rather the certain faith that one day we are to be brought face to face with God, that we should live to make ourselves ready for that moment.

But in the middle of all this talk of finality and judgement Jesus offers us the image of a fig tree coming into bud - an end to barrenness, an end of winter, a symbol of the resurrection from the dead. “The end” will always be near, but the message of Advent is that over the chaos of history hovers the Spirit of the Creator God, in the brokenness of humanity moves the God who makes all things new, in the despair of death stands the Christ who breaks open the entrance of the tomb.

Learn a lesson from the fig tree - with God it is always hope, not judgement, which has the final word.

First posted November 2003

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