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Sunday, November 27, 2011

The tender branch

"From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near."

An odd scripture reading (Mark 13:24-37), in a way, for the first Sunday in Advent. A reminder of summer in the midst of Autumn. Winter is just around the corner. Christmas is less than a month away.

In the midst of ever shortening days - the dark late mornings and early evenings - the gradual hardening of the ground, and the falling of the leaves, Jesus calls us to look at things tender and ready to bring forth new life.

It's counter-intuitive. Indeed, that's way most of the gospels read.

Jesus is asking us to look for the tender branch in the midst of the hardness of the times of our lives.

It must be the Season of Advent.

I've been having a conversation with a male clergy colleague about Advent. He's a good guy. Truly. One of the best. Intelligent. I learn so much from him. Votes on the side of the angels in terms of all the justice issues.

We disagree about lots of things. Advent is one of them.

He sees it as a mini-Season of Penitence.

I see it as a Season of Anticipation.

He wants Liturgical Purple (the coming of Royalty).

I want Liturgical Blue (the color of Mary).

He sees it less about the Incarnation and more about the Resurrection, pointing out that "even" the RC Church does not require its members to believe the Nativity narratives in Luke and Matthew (chapter 1 & 2 - in case I didn't know).

I say, excuse me, but the Resurrection would be meaningless without the Incarnation.

He says, ah, excuse me, but the Resurrection is the foundation of our faith.

I say, are you kidding me? What would the resurrection be without the incarnation?

He says, but, but, but, scripture says......

It's the perennial fallback position of the insecure who know they can't win the argument.

Only a man would argue about the veracity of The Annunciation being on the 25th of March - exactly nine months to the day from the Nativity, when any woman who has ever been pregnant can tell you that it would take more than a miracle for that to happen.

Besides, those who read scripture-as-historical-fact say that Jesus was probably born sometime in March - not December and certainly not when there was "snow upon the ground". 

As Bill Stingfellow said, The Bible is a guide book. Not a rule book.

I really - Really - believe that you don't have to crawl on your knees a hundred miles to the manger in order to meet the living God.

I think it takes a lot more work than that.

I think you have to be as tender as the branch of a fig tree in the midst of winter to understand the deep, sensual, illogical longing for the impregnation of God.

You have to be a woman - or a man - tender with hope and desire for new life. Transformation. A new way of being male or female which surpasses understanding the limits of gender identification.

Tender. Pliable. In the very midst of the rigidity of social constructs.

Jesus said to his disciples, "In those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 
Are you ready for Advent? Not penitent and on your knees but humble and pliable, like a tender branch, ready to bear figs?

I can't think of a time in my life when I was more tender - more open - than being pregnant and in labor. After my last child was born, I remember holding her in my arms and saying, "Hello. There you are! I've been waiting for you."

And then, I looked deep into her eyes, frowned and said, "It hurt to have you, did you know that? Sometimes, while I carried you and couldn't see you and then there were moments just now, before I looked into your eyes." And then, I smiled, tenderly, and said,  "But, I suspect you might say the same to me. This couldn't have been easy for you, either. Even so, you were so totally worth waiting for. I'm so glad you're finally here with me."

I suspect I'll say the same to Jesus, when I see Him in heaven.

And, Jesus might say the same to me. 

Pregnancy and childbirth are very messy, illogical affairs. You have to remain tender and pliable in the midst of the transformation that is happening to your body and your life.

Advent is much like that.

Ah, but the sweetness and goodness of the fruit you will bear is unlike any other.

So, get up off your knees. Unclutter your mind. Quiet your thoughts. Still your life. Remember to breathe deeply, relaxing your body and tending to your soul.

Most of all, try to enjoy this time of spiritual pregnancy as you feel new life growing within you, so that when the time of labor comes - you'll know not when - you can give your whole self to the process of new birth and open yourself to your new and renewed life in Christ.

"Keep awake,"  says Jesus, "for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly."

"And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."


David and John said...

Why not take a "both/and" view of Advent instead of "either/or"? For me, Advent is a quiet season of waiting and anticipation, which leads (for me, at least) to a certain level of penitence. Not the same as I experience in Lent, but in a more tender and gentle sense.

My preference for purple, however, is purely personal :)

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

You're right, of course, D&J, that anticipation can lead to inward reflection which can lead to penitence. My objection is when penitence becomes the focus. That's just plain silly. Purple for Advent is, well, purely personal. You've got so many more weeks of purple for Lent. Can't we have four weeks (okay, 3, if you subtract Rose Sunday) of blue for Advent? Please?

Matthew said...

Being male and childless, I had never thought of pregnancy and childbirth as a metaphor and that is a very powerful image. Thanks for that. However, given the price of altar linens these days (and not getting any volunteers who like to sew) we are stuck with using purple. We don't have any pink or blue linens or vestments though I wish that we did.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

So, Matthew, let me put you in touch with Colleen Hintz at Fruit of the Vine Vestments

She does GREAT quality work very inexpensively. And, each piece will be unique. Check out the vestments she did for me at St. Paul's. Reversible for Rose Sunday and Holy Week and one for "Green" summer. Magnificent.

Dom said...

Wow, thanks for a great post! Sorry for some gender bias, but I think women often have some cool insights that men miss. That's one reason why I think that women priests often have an advantage. End of gender bias.

At any rate, my parish, in Austin, TX, did in fact have Liturgical Blue this morning. Very nice.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I think the more colors we have in liturgy, the better we reflect God's creation. And, blue is so prevalent in our world, I think it pleases God very much.