Advent Week 1: Fig Trees

First and second figs, 1946. From wikimedia commons

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 all these things, you know that he is near, at the very gates.. (Matthew 24:32-33)

I didn’t really understand a lot of New Testament fig tree references until we owned a fig tree. It was young, and stood about twelve feet tall, with five main trunks about as thick as my arm. We ate the fruit straight from the tree when it was dark brown on the bottom, yellowish-brown on the top with just a tinge of green. At this stage, they are just firm enough to give a little pop when bitten.

The squirrels were less discriminating. They would take figs when they were mostly still hard and green, and leave the discarded skins on the porch railing as if they were taunting me. Mockingbirds got in on the action as well. They would take a triangular plug out of a fig while it was still on the tree with one peck of their beak, so I’d get a rude surprise when I reached up to pluck a beautiful fig only to find the other side filled with ants crowding a hole, slurping up the syrup. Each summer was a race between the humans and the backyard critters to get the best figs.

One year, I thought I’d killed our fig tree. We had a hard frost, and I pruned it too late in the winter. While the trees and garden were greening, there were no leaves on the fig by late spring. The disappointment stung; I didn’t realize how much I would miss it. Some of the thinner branches were dead and brittle. I consulted with my wife about what we might plant in its place.

But one day I saw tiny leaf buds just a few inches above the ground on one of its five trunks. Over the next two weeks as milky white sap rose through the interior of the tree, more buds popped out along the trunks, then the branches. Fig leaves are large and distinctive, so they grow and uncurl dramatically. It’s almost as if they were saying, “Ta-da!” To me, it was a resurrection.

This is the image I recall when I hear Jesus talk about the coming kin-dom. Even when it appears dead, the life-essence of the kin-dom is rising from the ground. There will be plenty of fruit for all of God’s critters.

Prayer: Source of Life, may we all enjoy the fruit of your new world. Amen.

—Rev. Dr. David Barnhart, Jr.