Bishop Ordinary: Rt Rev Brian R Marsh

Sermon

The Second Sunday in Advent, 2011
Good Shepherd, Charlestown; Trinity Church, West Lebanon

 

Let us pray: O Lord, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Blessings to everyone on this Sunday, which is often known as "Bible Sunday." Our collect for today asks that we may be granted the ability to hear the Scriptures, that we may "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" the contents of Scripture that we may gain the hope of everlasting life that has been given us in Jesus Christ. It is a beautiful expression of what the Scriptures represent to us. A knowledge of the Scriptures will change us. They will also give us an understanding of God's presence in the world. They will bring us fully into the Season of the Lord.

 

The gospel message from St. Luke includes this wonderful phrase, "signs and wonders." I confess that I have always been drawn to that phrase. Perhaps I like it so much that I am tempted to overuse it. It would make a wonderful book title. I am sure someone has already used it, but book titles can be used again and again; there are no copyright limitations on what anyone titles their books. But I invoke "signs and wonders" at odd times. When a certain yellow light in the shape of a wrench suddenly appears on my car's dashboard, I will often say softly, "there shall be signs and wonders." Then I make a mental note to take the car in for servicing.

 

Signs and wonders appear frequently. They appear when I prepare to take a long plane trip somewhere. I usually book the flights through a company called Orbitz. Once I have booked a flight, Orbitz sends me periodic reminders - "signs and wonders" - that I must prepare for my journey. "Only two days left before your trip to Atlanta" the message might say. Then the phone calls from Orbitz begin: "your flight to Atlanta," says the friendly but slightly metallic-sounding voice, "is on time." Usually, when I receive the latest of these reminders I have already arrived at the airport, passed through security and am seated at the gate looking at the signs and wonders on my iPhone.

 

But these are relatively routine signs and wonders, the ones we might receive on any given day. There are also seasonal signs and wonders. At this time of year, the weather turns colder, the amount of sunlight disappears from our days and we can clearly see that there is a change in our world. Such changes are evident to us all. The signs and wonders of the season are all pretty obvious. Any human being can read them. We don't need to exercise any great effort of the mind to know that it is late Fall, that it is almost Winter. We just know. The signs and wonders are all there. Even very young children, after just a few years of human life, become very adept at reading the signs of the times. Christmas trees appear, Christmas cards are sent and received, brightly colored lights are hung on evergreen boughs. The present time may be identified with great precision. We are approaching Christmas.

 

This is the point that Jesus makes when he relates the parable about the fig tree. When the fig tree is in full bloom, we know it is Summer. No doubt about it. If we were to fall asleep like some Twenty-first century Rip Van Winkle, remain sleeping for a long time and wake up in some year hence, we might not know the precise date without looking at the calendar. But if we were to take a look outside, we could easily guess the season. In fact, guesswork wouldn't come into play at all; we would just know.

 

We would just know. Jesus wants us to know. He wants us to know that the precise time is now; He wants to bring us present. He wants us to be able to know of the word of God so that we can truly understand with our hearts and minds what is right in front of us. He wants us to be able to read the signs and wonders of the season, God's season, as clearly, as readily and as certainly as we can tell when the leaves change color or the snow flies or the fig tree blooms. We are surrounded by a particular season; we live within the environment of a particular time of the year. The season shapes us; it adjusts how we live and move.

 

Today, we are called to look at a simple object. It is a tree. A fig tree in bloom. "Behold the fig tree," says Jesus. The Apostles, in their imaginations conjured up an image of a fig tree. They all knew what it looked like. And were each one to take out their first century iPhone cameras they would take pictures that would look remarkably the same. They would nod their heads and whisper to each other: "yes, that is a fig tree; your picture is identical to my own. There is no doubt that we have all captured perfectly the photograph of a fig tree in full bloom at the height of Summer."

 

They will then put away their iPhones and look at Jesus. He may say to them something like this: "You have a certainty about the fig tree. Your pictures of that tree are precise and true. The signs and wonders you have seen, even in your mind's eye, have given you a shared knowledge of this tiny piece of the world."

 

And then Jesus says this: "So likewise ye, when ye see these things come to pass, know ye that the kingdom of God is at hand." What are these things that come to pass, they might wonder. And Jesus reminds them of the prophesies that have been recorded in God's word, prophesies that state as clearly as the changes in the seasons or the dates on a calendar or a very specific fig tree in full bloom on a Summer's day. The kingdom of God is nigh at hand.

 

And some among them know the Scriptures well. They know the truth that Jesus speaks. And they know now, in the fullness of their understanding, the precise season of God's world. And they hold the words that Jesus speaks; they hold them close to their hearts because they know that these words are eternal and will never pass away.

 

Let us pray: O Lord Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found acceptable in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.