Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hope Blooms in the Desert - A Homily for Advent III, Year A, 2010

Homily for Advent III, Year A, 2010
Sunday, December 12th, 2010
Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Isaiah 35:1-10

Listening to the news this week, it is becoming clear that Barak Obama has lost his lustre. It was but a short time ago that the hopes and dreams of America were all pinned on this one man. He could only stand to fail to live up to the expectations that he set for himself and the expectations placed upon him by the American people. In fact, last year around this time I remember a comment that I made in a sermon that this was all bound to happen sooner rather than later, and as much as I like the man, I was pretty sure that he was likely not the messiah, contrary to popular opinion. Closer to home, a messiah has risen on the political right. Toronto has a new mayor, and all the hopes and dreams of people of the opposite political stripe to those who would claim to support a Barak Obama are pinned on this man. Like Obama, though, it is clear that the lustre will wear off in short order as well. While Rob Ford has got off to an aggressive start in turning his platform into political reality, he is being met with much opposition and the city hall battles are beginning once again. It can be easy to see why people may feel apathetic to the political process when the lustre wears off any given administration, be they left or right.

None of this is said to disparage those who offer themselves for public service, nor is it to disparage the political process itself. Coming from a family of civil servants I am deeply appreciate those who serve their communities either as elected officials or as professional public servants. The health and well-being of a community is, in large part, the result of the hard work of the people who serve our communities as teachers, librarians, firefighters, police service officers, transit employees, municipal workers, and yes, elected politicians. The combined efforts of these and other professionals serve to create a public sphere in which we can enjoy the fruit of the good society.

And yet, people being people, we have differing views of what the good society is all about. We fight about its meaning and we offer our hopes and dreams to each other. Sadly though, we take delight in dashing each other’s hopes and dreams. And then we take further delight in deriding the one finds themself unable to keep his or her promises. Where we have the potential to come together as a people, the darkness of sin drives us apart and we hurt, rather than build up our fellow citizens.

This phenomenon is nothing new. The world into which the prophet Isaiah spoke was a world of political disappointment; a world in which hope would rise and fall with every new ruler, with every new direction, with every new platform and with every new administration. Between foreign captivity and disappointing kings, the Hebrew people had every reason to give up on hope; and yet, into their despair Isaiah spoke these words, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.”

Perhaps these words were received with skepticism. Perhaps; but they were recorded and repeated generation after generation by people who knew much despair and much disappointment. They are repeated even unto this day. They are words that we repeat in Advent because they are words that pierce through the frailty of our humanity, and speak hope to hearts when hope is dashed and promises are broken. What is the hope that these words proclaim? That hope shall continue to blossom, that we shall taste its fruit, even as we journey from disappointment to disappointment.

This is a promise that comes not from human lips but from the mouth of the Lord. While it is that these words speak to a time beyond our time, about a kingdom that is to come, about the culmination of a history in which all things are gathered up in God, they are also words that speak to another reality though, and that is a reality that is set among us, in Christ Jesus. They speak to the reality of God’s presence in the birth of a tiny babe in Bethlehem, God incarnate, God in our midst. They speak to the reality of the presence of that same incarnate God through his abiding Spirit animating our shared life. They speak to the reality of Christ’s presence in the words of Sacred Scripture. They speak to the reality of his abiding presence in our sacramental sharing of his body and blood.

Most importantly, though, these words speak to us when all around have fallen away and we feel most alone, forsaken, and abandoned by broken promises of human hope. When hope should fail us because there is nothing left to cling to, hope prevails because it is the hope of God that rescues us. If we rely only on our own ability to manufacture hope, we shall be perennially disappointed, but if we shift our point of view for but a moment, we will realize that hope is not created by human hearts or human hands, but finds its wellspring in the heart of God. You see, God has hope for us. God believes in us. God has faith in us; and this is the hope to which we cling as Christian people, that is, God’s relentless desire for us to know joy, peace and love. The fruit of God’s faithfulness is our ability to know such things in him in Christ.

One of my favourite pieces of Christmas music is called “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.” Whereas the eating the fruit of the tree in the Garden of Eden condemned humanity to death, the eating of fruit of the apple tree which is Jesus Christ gives us life.

The tree of life my soul hath seen,
Laden with fruit, and always green
The trees of nature fruitless be
Compared to Christ the apple tree.

His beauty doth all things excel:
By faith I know, but ne’er can tell,
The glory which I now can see
In Jesus Christ the apple tree.

For happiness I long have sought,
And pleasure dearly I have bought:
I missed of all; but now I see
‘Tis found in Christ the apple tree.

I’m weary with my former toil,
Here I will sit and rest awhile;
Under the shadow I will be,
Of Jesus Christ the apple tree

This fruit doth make my soul to thrive,
It keeps my dying faith alive;
Which makes my soul in haste to be
With Jesus Christ the apple tree.

Last year I read a post by a fellow Anglican blogger, Laurel Masse, who said that this is her life in a song. I believe it is the story of my life, too. Perhaps it is the story of our shared humanity. We cannot manufacture faith. We cannot manufacture hope. We cannot manufacture joy, peace or love. These things come from God, but God does share them with overflowing abundance and grace. In the midst of political angst and uncertainty, in the midst of our apathy, in the midst of doubt, “This fruit does make my soul to thrive and keeps my dying faith alive.” When hope seems lost, God sets before us a tree in the desert and that tree is nothing less than God himself, in Jesus Christ. Isaiah tells us that there is a highway that winds its way through the desert, and as we journey along that road we find that hope blossoms like crocuses, valleys are exalted and rough place made plain. Should we be surprised to find along that road an apple tree bearing the fruit of life? Weary with our toil, let us rest for a moment under the tree and find the happiness and hope we long have sought.

A moment under the tree and we shall learn that whether kings rise or fall, whether promises are kept or broken, whether we succeed or whether we fail we can take heart that hope cannot be obliterated for we do not create it, we only share it. The fruit of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree we are called to share. Share it we will, and share it we must, for it is the tree of the fruit of life that blossoms without end and for healing of the nations. We rise from our rest under that tree, having tasted its goodness and we take up our way again on the road, but this time sharing the fruit of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, sharing the hope that good will indeed will reign among people, even if only in fleeting moments until such a time that all things find their consummation in the fruit of hope that awaits us all.

c. 2010 the Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Jesus Christ the Appletree - Words Anonymous (New England c. 18th century)
Music - Elizabet Poston (1905 - 1987).

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