Waiting for Springtime, Jeremiah 33:14–16; Luke 21:29–31
First Sunday in Advent, December 2, 2018
************************************************************Around many parts of the country, winter is in full swing. In other parts of the country winter has just begun. In South Mississippi, this time of year you never know when you walk out the door, whether to dress for summer or winter. Never-the-less I am looking forward, and waiting for springtime.
Both our Old Testament and our Gospel readings speak of spring, when leaves begin to bud and finally burst forth in a marvelous show of new life. The Lord says through Jeremiah, “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up,” (15) and Jesus relates a parable to us today and says “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. As soon as they come out in leaf” ((29-30). They, of course, are speaking of trees figuratively as they describe Jesus, the King of Heaven and Lord of all.
When Charlie Brown’s sister, Lucy spots the last leaf of autumn still attached to a tree, she cries aloud to it, “Stay up there, you fool!” The leaf nevertheless is caught by a breeze and floats to the ground at her feet. Lucy, now more upset than ever, screams, “Oh, good grief! You wouldn’t listen, would you? Now it’s the rake and the burning pile, you just can’t tell them anything!”
It may be true that you can’t tell leaves anything, but as far as Jesus is concerned, it is not enough for us to just talk to Him, but also to listen. Without our listening, it may mean the catastrophic rake and burning pile for us as well. While we may chuckle over the antics of Lucy and Charlie Brown, we need to heed the serious advice of Jesus.
Jesus is rooted in promise. He is the promised Branch of Israel’s princely family. He reveals to us some signs of His final coming so that we may ready ourselves and, by His grace, avoid a fearful, eternal winter without Him.
Advent is not simply to prepare us for Christmas. It is also a preparation time for eternity. One theologian writes “The Advent season, in its liturgical observance is devoted to the coming of God at the end of history when Jesus shall reign as King. The time is chiefly a celebration of ‘the coming of our God’ in ultimate triumph”. Advent reminds us that Jesus is coming as the Babe of Bethlehem, and coming again as the triumphant King of heaven.
The Jesus of history and the Lord of eternity are one and the same. He is rooted in the promise the heavenly Father made to the ancient patriarchs and prophets of Israel. God has committed Himself to us in sacred oaths and vows of commitment. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah” (14).
On that night in Bethlehem, through the birth of Jesus, that promise had majestic fulfillment. But in the coming of Christ again, the ultimate completion of all His promise will occur. The Gospel of Christ is rooted in promise, and that promise extends through the Lord’s nativity and incarnation to the time when He will return.
Isaiah identifies this Root when he writes, “For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him He was despised and rejected by men…But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Is 53:2-3, 5)
His roots are buried in that ancient promise. From the royal family of Israel, “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.” sings Jeremiah (15). The Savior was to come from a human family, the house of Jesse, whose son David became Israel’s most honored king.
In becoming man, God’s Son wrapped Himself in the mantle of human history. Long before that happened, the triune God planned the way of salvation for the human race and prepared for it through other men. He spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He addressed Moses from the burning bush on Mount Sinai. Moses led God’s people in their exodus from Egypt. Joshua led them into the land flowing with milk and honey. Judges ruled, and then kings reigned. Saul was the first. David, Jesse’s son, the shepherd boy of Bethlehem, was the second. It was from the family of David that the King would come. Just as Isaiah foretold, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. (11:2). Jesus will come as righteous King.
Today Jesus is still branching out into human history. He entered your life and mine through Baptism. He grows in us, and we in Him, through God’s Word and Sacraments. He comes to calm our fears, to love us and befriend us, to help us and forgive us.
Humanity was plunged into sin when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit of a tree. But on another tree, the cross, Jesus reached out to redeem us, so that we might dwell with Him forever and ever. He came to do what is just and right in the land. The Lord became, and is our righteousness.
The Israelites were reminded of this every time they went to the temple. There they saw the menorah, the seven-branched lampstand designed by God. By this lampstand, the holy place of the temple was lighted. And through Jesus, the Light of the world, we see clearly in a darkened world, as long as we remain attached to Him like branches on a tree.
Jeremiah 17 teaches us that the person who takes refuge in God’s grace “is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. (17:8).
Angela Elwell Hunt has retold a traditional folktale in her version of the Tale of Three Trees. Three young trees grew as a little family atop a high mountain. They dreamed of what they would like to be. One delighted in the glitter of the star-filled nights and said, “I want to be covered with gold and filled with precious stones. I want to be the most beautiful treasure chest in the world.”
The second tree grew near a trickling brook that worked its way into a river and finally out to sea. “I want to be a strong sailing ship, traveling mighty waters and carrying powerful kings.”
The third tree looked down on the villages in the valley below and asserted, “I want to grow so tall that when people stop to look at me they will raise their eyes to heaven and think of God.”
Years passed by. One day three woodcutters arrived. One by one the trees fell to the woodcutters’ axes.
The first tree, who wanted to be a treasure chest, was made into a feedbox. The second tree, who dreamed of becoming a majestic sailing ship, was made into a tiny fishing boat. And the third tree, who wanted to grow so high, was turned into lumber.
Years later, the feedbox found itself holding a Baby and drenched in golden starlight. Suddenly the first tree knew it was holding the world’s greatest Treasure.
The second tree found itself sailing on the waters of a small lake. One evening a wearied traveler and his companions climbed aboard the little boat, only to encounter a terrific storm. The tired man had gone to sleep. The other passengers were terrified, but when the tired man awoke, he stretched out his hand and ordered the storm to end. The second tree then knew it was carrying the greatest King of all.
One Friday some months later, the third tree was startled to discover it was being removed from the lumberyard. It flinched as it was carried through a jeering mob. It shuddered when soldiers nailed a man’s hands to its branched arms. It felt abused and misused. By Sunday morning, the third tree knew that God’s love had turned the ugliness of Good Friday into the beauty of Easter.
God’s love made flesh, had made the first tree beautiful beyond its dreams. The second tree was honored to carry a King far more majestic than it hoped. And the third tree would now cause everyone to think of God each time they saw its cross-shaped silhouette.
The story of the three trees is but a fable. The story of the true King of heaven is true. He is the answer to every troubling question and the only source of hope and light despite the fiery judgment to come.
Today, pastors all over the world will be telling the meaning of Advent. They will be explaining that the root of the word advent, is from a Latin word that means come. They will be explaining how the theme of this season is all about coming.
But let me tell you what Advent is really all about. It is a season of repentance, and belief where Jesus serves us with His coming. Just as Lent is a season of repentance and belief in preparation for Good Friday, so also Advent is a season of repentance and belief in preparation for the coming of Jesus, not just as He came at Christmas, but also as He comes to us now, and will come to raise us from the dead and live with us forever.
Rooted in promise, Jesus is the King of kings who is the Tree of Life. Jesus brings relief from the wintry storms of this human life. He gives us a springtime of joy, and a season of celebration. He conquered both sin and death for you. When Christ comes again, winter will be over, there will be another spring. The leafing out of a fig tree is a sobering reminder that the end is near. Yet you and I need not shake in fright. We trust God’s promise. We trust Jesus Christ to provide shade from the blistering sun and protection from the ultimate storm as this world passes away.
This Advent we look to the Holy Spirit to keep us in the one true faith so that we rejoice in the Lord who came that first Christmas, who comes today in Word and Sacrament, and who will come to raise us from the dead. Hang on to Jesus, who is the Springtime rooted in promise, and a joy for all sheltered under His cross. Amen.