Peter Pay, Moderator of the United Reformed Church General Assembly, explains why the fig tree provides a good analogy for our Advent task of preparation
Fig trees are often referred to in the Bible. Jesus mentions them in a parable, where he curses one for its lack of fruit.
We have a large fig tree in our garden which often bears much fruit. I have noticed that whilst fig trees lose their leaves in winter, all the fruits that failed to mature remain on the tree… potentially for years. These fruits will never ripen. They will eventually rot.
Indeed, I gather that, if left there, the fruits that failed to mature will weaken the tree and reduce the future yield. They are, in many ways, a reminder of hopes unfulfilled – possibilities that never came to fruition. We are advised to remove such fruit, so that the tree is able to put its full energies into next year’s season. We are also advised to prune less productive parts.
You are now probably ahead of me. There is a direct analogy to us and to our Church communities. We have a natural tendency to look back at our failures: to lose heart at what did not succeed, to cling on to things in the hope that somehow, they might in the future ripen. In so doing, we can lose the energy to feed the buds of new beginnings, and we may fail to focus all our efforts on them.
We need to learn to be more ready to leave old failures behind: fruit that has not matured, branches that are not productive. Otherwise, they will weigh us down and sap our strength.
The next season will be different. God will present us with new and exciting possibilities for us to harvest. Look closely at a dormant fig tree and you will see the new buds – the new fruits starting to appear!
Advent is the time to prepare for the new season, for new possibilities, to make a fresh start. There will be new leaves and new fruits, some of which will succeed. Advent is a time for us to leave old failures behind, to make a new start. It is a time to find new hope, to see new possibilities that may ripen and come to fruition.
Each year is different. Some years we have a rich harvest – a glut. Others, very little. Our challenge is to be ready for either – to be willing to let go and to adapt. To embrace whatever happens, to the glory of God.
There are constant signs of hope and renewal in our churches and our communities: signs of new fruit, new harvests. We are called to embrace them and put our energies there.
I pray that this Advent time may be for you a time of letting go, of finding new hope, new possibilities and new enthusiasm for God’s work.
P.S. I can recommend fig jam with Brie!
Peter Pay, December 2020