Advent Fig

Advent 1 – Luke 21:25-36 . . . Then he told them a parable: “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.”

(This is a revised 2009 reflection. In my new 2012 Advent reflections I’m ignoring more traditional interpretations of the Advent/Christmas scriptures. Of course, you may read this and think, “Hey Larry, this 2009 piece is also ignoring the obvious!”)

In Luke’s gospel, anticipating the second coming and the signs and portents that will serve as preamble, Jesus points toward the fig tree. Look at the fig tree, when it sprouts . . . “summer is already near.” Likewise, the powers of heaven will be shaken and soon people will witness the “Son of Man coming in a cloud.”

It is good to know when the end of time as we understand it will be near. Warnings help. Knowledge represents power!

Beware the fig!

And yet, along the route where I walk my trusty dog Hannah for our morning stroll I’ve observed evidence of the coming summer winter by the sprouting of a fig tree. Not far from home, inching skyward, is a random ficus caricas. (Oh, you doubt me? Note the picture I’ve taken. I knew you might question my horticulture expertise, would have doubts about my figly facts.) Every morning, for months, we’ve passed this fig tree. It grows. It sprouts leaves. And now, with winter beckoning, with Advent upon us, with Jesus’ cautionary comments about figs rattling ‘bout my lectionary thoughts, I see the first fig fruits emerging. Help! The sky is falling, the figs are growing!

But here’s what I know to explain this strange event I’m experiencing. I live near a street called Fig Garden Loop. I frequently shop at Fig Garden Village. When I moved into my home fifteen years ago, I battled a persistent fig tree volunteer that grew below the window of the dining room. Unchecked, it represented an obvious future threat (in fifty years or so) to the house’s foundation.

Fresno, my city of residence, is a former field of figs. In the early nineteen hundreds local farmers decided figs would be a swell addition to the agricultural bounty. They planted gazillions of them. Those early ficus caricas aficionados were a committed, clever group. The soil in this area is hard and cruel, a cousin to concrete. And so they—I kid you not—dynamited holes to plant the first crop of figs. I’ve seen early photos; the fig orchards covered the ironing board flat landscape as far as the eye can see. Continue reading →

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Holy Homonyms

Luke 3:1-6 – The 2nd Sunday of Advent – for December 9, 2012

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius…” (Luke 3:1)

I am “skirting” Bethlehem this year. Click here for why.

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

Whew, that’s a whole lotta name-dropping in the opening of Luke’s third chapter. You’d need the lungs of Olympic swimmers Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin to speak the sentence without an extra breath or two.

But today I’m not as concerned with the names or titles, or the length or breath of a verse, as much as with holy homonyms. In this season of Advent, in the time of an impending baby, an expectant hope, a promise born in darkness, I wonder about holy ways and human longing. So let’s re-imagine Luke’s first words in that third chapter:

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius . . .

In the fifteenth year of the rain of Emperor Tiberius . . .

In the fifteenth year of the rein of Emperor Tiberius . . .

Reign, Rain, Rein! Homonyms are words that sound alike, and yet mean different things. Like gate and gait. Or there’s Sana Claus, a legal clause and cat’s claws. And take an Olympic breath before you declare . . . air, are*, e’er, ere, err and heir.

There’s reign . . .

Jesus was born in the reign of Emperor Augustus. His ministry will begin during the reign of Tiberius.

One of the ways I embrace the Gospels, with their miracles, stories, encounters with the rich and poor, in talk of treasure and tales of healing, of private prayers and public actions, is as an invitation to each blessed reader and hearer of the word to choose. Who or what reigns over your life? Choose! Will it be God or mammon? Jesus or Tiberius? Faith or fear? I could add an interfaith twist by asking . . . Buddha or capitalism, Islam or commercialism? And there’s this frisky homonym:  will you be awed by other humans or merely see anyone different than you as odd? Choose! Continue reading →

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On Time

Jeremiah 33:14-16 – First Sunday of Advent – for Sunday, December 2, 2012

“The days are surely coming…” (Jeremiah 33:14)


I am “skirting” Bethlehem this year. Click here for why.

Do you have a minute? Want to grab an hour? How does today look?

What time is it? It’s time to go . . . now . . . soon . . . later.

What time do I start? Half past six. Zero dark thirty. When you’re ready.

Who could improve on Charles Dickens’ timeless opening line in his Tale of Two Cities?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Whoa! Dickens scribed an opening line with 120 words! No twenty-first century editor would take the time to read such a lengthy opening to a novel. After all, time is money.

Time is money, and back in the old times, the more Dickens wrote, the more quid he received.

Recently I chatted with a friend planning to retire soon. His “last day” looms. After thirty and more years of working a job he loves—and a job he did very well—it’s almost over. He approaches the end of time, if you will. How could those decades flash by so quickly? How could years of a cluttered desk and an overscheduled calendar become an empty office in a matter of days?

As a pastor, I recall leaving churches, where the bookshelves were emptied and the final sermon had been given and I relinquished the keys. I’ve left a parish six times in my mostly uneventful clergy career. Sometimes I cried; sometimes I sighed with relief.

My, my, how time flies. Continue reading →

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