Sunday’s Gospel lesson is chronically difficult to deal with. What did Jesus mean by signs in the sun, moon, and stars? How do we handle Jesus’ promise that the generation would not pass away before these things took place? Is Jesus suggesting that if we pray hard enough, we can be saved – isn’t that works righteousness? What the hell does any of this have to do with Christmas? I’m not preaching this week, and I haven’t done my homework on this difficult text, so I can’t really help you with any of that, but I have become particularly interested in Jesus’ mention of the fig leaves.
In my neck of the woods, the harbinger of summer isn’t the fig tree; it is the pecan tree that tells us that winter is over. I’m not sure how it knows, but the locals say that the pecan tree never buds before the last frost/freeze of the season. When the pecan tree finally begins to bud, it is time to put away the winter gear because warmer weather is on its way. Like I said, I’m not sure how the pecan tree knows, but we know from years and years of experience. The data tells us, and so it has become a sign.
The problem with the second coming, which along with the annual remembrance of Christ’s incarnation, is part of what we long for this Advent season, is that there is no data. There is only speculation, and any number of foolish souls who are eager to read the leaves: fig, pecan, or maybe even tea; and try to know something that Jesus told us will come unexpectedly.
Rather than reading leaves, Jesus tells us that we should be about the work of the Kingdom. This only makes sense, since it is the Kingdom we are waiting for anyway. Wouldn’t it be better to be reaching out in love for our neighbor when God comes to bring about his reign of love full-time? Wouldn’t it be better to better to develop a strong prayer life in preparation for the coming of the One to whom we pray? Getting about the work of the Kingdom will take away from our ability to read the leaves, but it will make us all the more ready for when our prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught us, that the Kingdom might exist on earth as it does in heaven, finally comes to pass. So, quit looking for signs in the heavens or for buds on the trees, roll up your sleeves, and get busy with Kingdom work.