Look at the Trees
"Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves 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."
Luke 21: 25-36
November 29, 2021, Words By: Kristy Humphreys, Image By: Unknown
Even though I grew up in the church, I didn’t come from a tradition that observed Advent. I knew it existed, but my knowledge was pretty much limited to a cardboard calendar with cheap chocolate inside that some kids got in December. I didn’t really discover Advent until my 30’s. It was a game-changer to experience the long-held traditions of anticipation and preparation that come with this particular church season.
But, there’s a part of Advent that still confuses me.
Why does such a beautiful time of year have to kick off with apocalyptic verses?
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”
Um, what? Why the downer when I’m getting ready to hang Christmas lights and set out the manger? Even the first candle on the advent wreath is for “hope,” not a concept I generally tie to fear and foreboding.
Ok, but here’s something else I didn’t learn until my 30’s. Apocalypse doesn’t mean “end of the world” so much as it means an “unveiling” or a “revealing” (Revelation….get it?). So when we come across these apocalyptic texts, it begs the question, what is being revealed? And if Advent is about waiting for God to show up, where do we see God moving in the midst of distress, fear and foreboding?
“Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves 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.”
Yes, the “Apocalypse” reveals brokeness, but it’s also the revelation of the presence AND imminence of the Kingdom of God in the midst of it all. Just as we prepare for and anticipate the arrival of Emmanuel at Christmas, we simultaneously remember he has already come, and the Holy Spirit is at work in the world, even now.
I’ve been reading a book by Mandy Smith called Unfettered, where she explores what it means to have a child-like faith. In the book she tells the story of a time when she was preparing to lead a healing service, and she felt prompted to “dance for the healing to come.” At first, she dismissed the notion as foolish. But then she decided to embrace her own vulnerability; so she awkwardly danced out her prayer for healing on the floor where the service would later take place.
In reflecting on the experience she said it was like dancing Psalm 30:11 in the future tense, “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.” She wasn’t dancing for what God had done. Instead, it was a physical expression of lament for the healing she longed for.
She says, “This is our calling — to be honest about brokenness, and in the same breath, proclaim that brokenness is not the whole story. We dance not to avoid or numb but to heal our own hearts. We dance as an act of faith that there are things at work beyond our seeing and understanding… How will we know something is happening unless someone is brave enough to say, ‘Something is happening!’? I danced for the healing to come for others. As I danced, healing began in me.”
Now, I’m not suggesting that we all need to take up dancing as part of our prayer life. But Mandy’s story feels like an example of apocalyptic hope to me. We can anticipate and long for redemption and healing, for heaven come to earth, and simultaneously look for the ways God is revealing God’s self in the world, proclaiming, “something is happening!” Suddenly, that hope candle makes a lot more sense too. Like budding leaves on a tree, we can already see signs of God at work in the world, slowly and surely bringing his kingdom, making all things new.
Dwelling Among Us
What is God revealing to you this Advent? As we anticipate the arrival of embodied love, how do we also see it at work in the world?
A Great Disturbance, Steve Garnas-Holmes
A great disturbance approaches—
but not some dire calamity flung upon us,
the fantasy engorged preachers like to invoke.
No, it’s a greater upheaval:
a rift in the very fabric of selfishness,
a disturbance in the powers of evil.
God knows the secret, fatal weakness
of the Opponent of Life:
his power is built entirely on lies and fear.
Even the simplest truth unravels it.
Even the smallest gift, the most subtle beauty,
shakes the powers.
The energy of love overpowers evil,
converts it, as light does darkness.
God mends this troubled world
not by mounting a war of good against evil
but by sending a helpless child,
a child who prevails, not by winning—
for eventually evil will kill the child—
but by evoking such unkillable love in our hearts
that the powers in the heights are shaken.
So when we see these things we raise our heads,
for our redemption is drawing near.