Download PDF version here: December 2, 2018 – Looking for the Fig Tree
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“LIVING IN BETWEEN – LOOKING FOR THE FIG TREE”
By Rev. Victor Kim
(12-02-18) Advent 1, Communion
Winter is coming.
Now, we all know that, but I’m not talking about the weather. In the TV series, Game of Thrones, the constant threat that underlies everything is that winter is coming. Without going into it in any detail, suffice it to say that winter on the Game of Thrones is a very bad thing. It lasts for years and it brings the threat of the White Walkers, pretty much the walking dead. While there’s a lot of palace intrigue, spectacular battles and wayward romances going on, the looming threat in the whole show is that winter is coming and that everything that everyone’s been scheming and fighting for may all amount to nothing if the walking dead have their way.
This whole idea of an apocalyptic end to everything we know isn’t something that’s only found on TV shows or in movies. The end of the world has always figured prominently in theology and in our scriptures, there’s even a special word for it, eschatology. And every new church year, every season of Advent, which begins today, the gospel readings always begin with a text about the end of the world as we know it. Advent is a time of living “in between.”
It’s about what was and what is to be, what’s already happened and what’s yet to occur. It’s a time of anticipation and expectancy. Christians live fully in the here and now, with all the joys and sorrows, victories and setbacks of human life. But we also live with the hope of the life yet to come, the new, eternal life when Jesus returns to renew this creation and us. This Advent, our focus will be on what it means to live “in between,” celebrating the reality of Jesus’ birth, the in-breaking of the kingdom, but also committing ourselves to a more just world, to participate in the full realization of that kingdom. Because Advent always begins with a text about the end of the world, a lot of people have tended to associate the return of Jesus with negative signs. What I mean by that is that throughout history people have associated times of hardship, natural disaster, political chaos and war, economic collapse, social upheaval, as signs of the return of Jesus. An unusual drought must mean that the end of the world is near and that Jesus is coming back. We’ve all seen the crazy looking guy with the long hair and the sign that reads, Repent, the End is Near!
I suppose some of this is warranted, because the gospel texts do speak about signs in the sun, the moon and the stars and distress among nations because of their confusion. There’s talk of fear and foreboding and that even the powers of heaven will be shaken. And Jesus seems to confuse the whole matter by saying things like, truly I tell you; this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. It’s amazing that even though Jesus himself said clearly that no one knows the time, not even the Son, only the Father in heaven, people can’t seem to stop themselves from trying to guess what Jesus meant by his words and wanting to put a specific date on his return. Mostly these guesses are accompanied by dire warnings about worldly events that are akin to the warning that winter is coming. Famine, Ebola, wars, Trump, whatever your definition of the apocalypse may include, people have tended to equate the return of Jesus with signs of catastrophe. Every generation since Jesus has had those who thought that they were the last. They have all been wrong.
I wonder whether it’s because we’re reading the text wrong. If there is distress among the nations, it’s because they are confused. People will faint from fear and foreboding, but it’s not because of any coming catastrophe, but because they’re confused, because they aren’t ready, they have no sense of expectation or anticipation. When it says that the powers of heaven will be shaken, if you don’t have a sense of what that means, the context by which to understand these words, no wonder you might be just afraid. But Jesus offers another perspective. When you see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. The end of the world isn’t a time to duck and cover, no, Jesus says that when the time draws near, we are to stand up and raise our heads; we are to stick our necks out.
Advent always begins with hope. The first Sunday of Advent is always about hope. And what is this hope that Advent begins with? It is the hope that the Jesus who ascended to the right hand of the Father will come again with power and glory, that God will restore and renew the creation God has started. It is being assured that the kingdom of God, born into the world in a little baby in a manger in a forgettable town on the backwaters of the empire, is still unfolding and will bring about God’s desired newness, renewing us in the process as well. The hope is that no matter what signs of disaster and catastrophe we might see, no matter how much death and destruction the world can conjure up, things are not necessarily what they appear to be. Hope is trusting that God is still at work and that it’s not winter that’s coming, but summer.
Look for the fig tree, says Jesus. Look for the sprouting leaves so you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. As the day of the return of Jesus approaches, it’s not our fear that is to grow, but our hope. Instead of ducking for cover, we are to raise our heads, stick our necks out. The posture of hope is not one of defensiveness, but of vulnerability. You lift up your head; you stick your neck out, because you believe more in the promise of what God is doing than in the fear that you’ll get your head chopped off if you do.
I wonder whether we will live as a people of hope this Advent? There’s a lot that we could choose to be afraid of. Despots and dictators, braggarts and bullies, if you work in the oil patch or build gas driven automobiles, these aren’t times of confidence. If you happen to be poor in one of the most expensive cities to live in the world, it’s hard not to worry. If you, or someone you know, you love, struggles with addiction, with depression, with anxiety, it’s hard not to be afraid. If someone you love is sick or dying, why wouldn’t you fear? Well, because while this world might be one where winter seems to rule, the hope of Advent is to see the leaves sprouting around us, to know that summer is already near. We are to set aside our fear and discouragement, our worry and anxiety, and we are to stand up and raise our heads, because our redemption is drawing near, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. It’s not that we have to save the world; someone else already has that job! Someone else has already promised that there is a redemption coming, a redemption of our suffering, our pain, our worries, our bodies, our lives. We don’t have to do, we can’t do, what Jesus has already done for us, but this Advent we are invited to live with hope, to raise our heads, to stick out our necks and to bear witness to the coming summer. We have to start looking for the fig tree, for the leaves that are sprouting, and they are.
I thought I would look through the local newspapers for signs of hope, for stories that point to the sprouting leaves. And the truth is, that even in this age of cynicism and worry, stories of hope abound, if you look for them. There’s a story of 14 year old Layla Dorko who lives on a Chilliwack farm. A year and a half ago she had surgery for a life threatening intestinal blockage. Now she wants to thank the people who cared for her by raising funds for the BC Children’s Hospital. She hoped to sell a calf born from one of her family’s cows to raise funds, thinking that she could raise about $4,000 at a cattle auction. The heifer named Izzy was sold, then resold, five times at the auction, raising $17,000, then even more donations came in from other farmers who wanted to help. Layla has raised so far, $20,000, with more still coming in.
There’s a school in Surrey that feeds children from families that are either impoverished or refugees to Canada, or have moved from Vancouver to Surrey to find cheaper rent so that they would have more money for food. This inner city school feeds on average 30 kids a day. Some of these children, if they didn’t get breakfast at the school, we don’t know what they’d eat, says the Principal, James Pearce. Working with the Vancouver Sun’s Adopt-A-School program, Surrey schools hope to raise almost $300,000 this year to feed and clothe impoverished children and help families trapped by poverty.
In Richmond, there’s a new website called, Season of Giving, which features nine local non-profit organizations with links to their donation pages. Worried about how the recent postal strike might affect seasonal donations, the Richmond News decided that there was an opportunity for the newspaper to blast out the information about the charities through an online giving hub. The great thing about Richmond is that we have so many not-for-profits, and there are so many different stories to tell, said Rob Akimow, sales director for the Richmond News. They have done such great work and the public should be able to know that.
A high school leadership class from McMath Secondary in Richmond has collected over 6,600 bags of Halloween candy weighing 761 kilograms. They donated all that candy, along with boxes of granola bars, cookies, crackers, licorice and chips and more, to the Good Shepherd Street Ministry that works with those living on the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. While it may not seem like much, it’s a small gesture that serves to help alleviate some of the despair and hopelessness that those living on the streets face daily. It’s an act that says, someone cares.
One final story of hope, although there are many more, but this one with a connection to us here at RPC. John Sayer is a Richmond artist who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident almost 8 months ago. He was hit by an SUV that crossed the centre line and struck him head on. He sustained 38 upper body fractures and lost his left leg above his knee. But his life was saved by the paramedics who responded to the scene. Finally discharged from the hospital on November 21, Sayer wanted to thank the emergency responders who saved his life. Last Sunday Sayer was able to meet and thank the two paramedics who gave his life back, including Taryn Overhill, Pearl and David’s daughter. Taryn received from Sayer a beautiful print of a dragonfly, colourful and full of life.
Signs of summer all around us. Signs of life all around us. We just need to raise our heads and stick our necks out, whether it’s through acts of gratitude or compassion, generosity or mercy, we need to embrace a posture of vulnerability. We need to live with hope, as a people of hope, as an Advent people, as a people who will participate in the newness that God is bringing about, in the kingdom of God that is still unfolding all around us. There are those who think that their salvation has to be protected at all costs, so they duck and cover, not wanting to risk it by doing something wrong. But we know that our salvation isn’t something we need to protect because God’s word tells us that by God’s great mercy God has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us…
We don’t have to worry about risking our redemption, we just need to live with hope in the one who is our salvation and redemption.
Friends, Jesus is our salvation and he promises to be with us, even if heaven and earth pass away, his words, his promises, his love for us will not. His words resound in our midst today…
“this is my body, broken for you, this is my blood shed for you.”
At the table this morning, on this first Sunday of Advent, on this day of hope, God in Jesus Christ, promises us the hope of newness, of being made new creations in Jesus Christ. Summer is coming, so let us live with hope.
Written by Rev. Victor Kim
Preached on 02 December 2018
at Richmond Presbyterian Church.
 Robert S. Dannals, A Preacher’s Guide to Lectionary Sermon Series, Thematic Plans for Years A, B and C