Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday in Advent 3: The lesson of the fig tree

Opening Sentence
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Isaiah 40:3

Commemoration: Lucy and Agatha
O Almighty God, by whose grace and power your holy martyrs Lucy and Agatha triumphed over suffering and were faithful even unto death: Grant us, who now remember them with thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to you in this world, that we may receive with them the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 45

Lessons: Zechariah 2, Revelation 3:14-22, Matthew 24:32-44

The fig tree had long been a symbol of the nation of Israel. It had been a sobering symbol, at best. From the beginning, its provision had been known to be inadequate. Adam and Eve tried to cover their nakedness with its leaves, but were unable to cover their sin (cf. Genesis 3). The fig tree should have stood as a reminder to Israel that the provision God had made for them through the Old Covenant of the law and its Temple rituals was only temporary. It pointed to a more perfect embodiment of God's plan for redemption who, in the fullness of time, would come to gather his people from the ends of the earth.

In employing what ought to be a familiar image to his disciples, Jesus is reminding them yet again of the futility of seeking any other “clothing” other than that which he himself provides. The fig tree may blossom for a season and its leaves may provide shelter from exposure to sunlight, but summer eventually yields to winter. The fig tree withers and we are left cold and naked to hide “among the trees of the garden.” Confronted with the ugly reality of our sin—nation against nation, kingdom against kingdom, famines, earthquakes, wars and rumors of wars—we have only one hope: to cry out in faith to him whom we hear “walking in the garden in the cool of the day”; the One who says, “when you see all these things, know that he is near, at the very gates.”

As the fig tree withered at Jesus's word, so the Temple, and the corrupt system it had come to represent, would be made to pass away as Jesus brought the Word of God to its perfect fulfillment. Within a generation, the Temple would become a smoldering ash heap; its temporary provision exposed for the inadequate covering it was. From its ruins would spring forth a new tree, the cross of Christ, which stands at the very center of God’s redemptive plan. Here, Old Covenant and New Covenant come together. The dividing wall between Jew and Gentile is abolished and God in Christ forms a new creation, the Church, as his eternal covenant people chosen by grace from before the foundation of the world.


O Come, O Come Emmanuel