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Seasons - Pastor's Pen for 3rd December 2023

‘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.' Mark 13:28

Jesus, in Mark 13 gives teaching on the necessity of staying alert in the Spirit for the signs of the times. This is the gospel for the first Sunday in Advent. Late in the chapter, Jesus turns his disciples’ attention to the natural world, specifically the fig tree, one of the few deciduous trees native to Palestine – ‘as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near’ he says. The fig tree is also symbolic of the coming of the kingdom of God, the messianic age, in Jewish literature.

Living in God’s world as we do, seasonal markers of change announce the bearing of fruit, the birth of young and so on. For the farmer or orchardist, they signal that certain things need to be done, seasonal markers need to be observed and acted upon. This is not the end of the story, but the beginning of something else that will need to be done.

In a small way, I participate in this horticultural rhythm by often planting tomatoes, beans and potatoes in the manse garden. I always feel more connected to the earth, as if it's a reminder that people didn't always live in a cocoon of technology removed from nature, but were a part of God's creation and apportioned a role in tending the planet. I begin in October, but the harvest is several months later, weather dependent.

Humans are both good and bad at earth care, with examples of greed and exploitation easy to find, along with ways of working harmoniously with nature. In between discerning the seasons of the planet, the believer needs to discern the movement of God's Spirit in faith communities and the wider world. The lesson of the fig tree in Mark 13 for the disciple is that one needs to be awake to the signs of the times, be prepared for the coming kingdom, and listen to the gentle voice of the Spirit in the midst of it all.

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