Signs of hope and expectation

Preached by Brenda Holden on 2 December 2018: Advent Sunday
Jeremiah 33:14-16; Luke 21:25-36

The sycamore tree in our garden is a mixed blessing. As with so many trees in West End it has a preservation order on it and we are only permitted to remove dead branches that would be casualties of stormy weather.

My study window looks out directly on to the tree that I can observe through the different seasons of the year. We are now in winter and superficially it looks dead, but the spring buds are already formed. These are a sign of hope, a sign of future life and abundance! In fact the delight in the bare branches at this time is that any sunshine during the short days will not be restricted by the leaf cover absorbing the light. I am also able to enjoy the antics of the different birds on the tree that are hidden from view during the summer months.

This tree is a sign of hope and expectation as it prepares itself for the next growing season. In a similar way the season Advent in the church calendar, which begins today, is a sign that we are living in hope and expectation for the coming of Christ and for the coming of the Kingdom of God.

It is no surprise then that Jesus’ observation of the fig tree in our gospel reading was directing his disciples to look for signs in the world around them for the coming of redemption. The fig tree in Jewish scripture was associated with God’s promise of prosperity, and its productiveness was a token of peace and divine favour, but the irony is that Jesus is talking to his disciples just before his arrest and death. They were all aware of the building up of tension between Jesus and those in authority.

So, here we are at the start of Advent for Year C and the lectionary reading has launched us into Luke’s Gospel at a time of great uncertainty and anxiety amongst Jesus’ followers. What would the future hold for them?

The early Christian communities were expecting the ‘second coming’ of Christ. When Luke’s Gospel was written some time between AD75 and 130 a generation or so after Christ’s death they were still waiting and preparing for the expected second coming.They were looking for signs that would predict that second coming.

Down the ages since then some Christian folk have also, mistakenly, interpreted the signs of distress among the nations as a fanfare for the second coming of Christ – they have used the words recorded in Luke’s Gospel to support their theories. But none of us know when, or if, Christ will return to our world. If it does happen, the one thing we can be sure of is that it will be in the most unexpected way and at a time when we are least expecting it!

Jane Williams, the wife of the former Archbishop of Canterbury and a respected theologian in her own right, calls us to ‘intelligent waiting’ during Advent.

In our Old Testament reading from Jeremiah we heard some unusually upbeat words from the prophet. Jeremiah was typically a prophet of doom. He seems to have spent the whole of his life up until that point telling the people of Israel what they didn’t want to hear. They were facing the destruction of the nation and the division of the people and his prophecy came true. The city of Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians, the powerful foreign enemy. Jeremiah was imprisoned and just when the world was falling apart and all appeared to be hopeless for God’s people, Jeremiah suddenly begins to talk about restoration and his prophecy, which we heard in our reading becomes hopeful.

Jeremiah has a vision of the coming of the Messiah. The Messiah who was the righteous branch springing up from the apparently dead tree stump The righteous branch that will reconnect the people with the great promises given during the reign of King David.

Advent for us is a time for hope and expectation. The last few weeks have been tumultuous in political circles and the coming months are veiled in a cloud of uncertainty. We need to be alert for signs of recovery in our troubled world. What signs of recovery? What signs of hope can we see in our world? What signs point to the coming of the Kingdom of God?

It is hopeful that in the media we are now, regularly, hearing calls for an end to poverty and oppression. We hear calls for changes in our attitude to our fragile world. We hear calls for the safeguarding of the young and vulnerable in society.

Advent calls us back to God from whom we come and to whom we will go. God never fails us. God will not abandon us. God’s Kingdom is near!   Amen