"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. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that Messiah is near, at the very gates." - Mark 13:28-29
As I write this (months before you will read it), it's hard to conjure up the sights and sounds of December. It's much easier to connect to these words from Mark.
There are nectarines softening in a brown paper bag on my kitchen window sill. The gardens in the church courtyard are just coming into fruit. Ripeness is the order of the day.
And it's exacting work. To recognize the rich shade of yellow that says a cherry tomato should be popped directly into one's mouth and to do it before the squirrels determine the same. To claim a zucchini when it is long enough to be worth the effort but hasn't yet bloated up into the shape of an overfilled water balloon. To try to forget about those incredible nectarines just sitting on the window sill … but not for too long.
Ripeness requires vigilance. And recognizing the presence of Emmanuel – of God-with-us – is not different. God's realm is ripening, in some places already good enough to eat, in others barely a bud.
Advent is our certification course as Master Gardeners. It teaches us to heed the signs of the Spirit's presence, the spots where God is oh-so-close. To know when to water, when to prune, and when the moment is right to pluck the fruit and offer it to a neighbor who has never tasted such sweetness.
Even in the depths of December, earth is ripening with your sweetness. Show me.
Vince Amlin is co-pastor of Bethany UCC, Chicago, and co-planter of Gilead Church Chicago, forming now.