We are a rural three church parish located in beautiful Upper Adams County. Our churches include St. James Lutheran Church just north of Bendersville, PA, Bethlehem Lutheran Church located in Bendersville, PA, and Christ Lutheran, located in Aspers, PA.
**The livestream for this Sunday, November 29, 2020
has been canceled.**
In its place we would like to offer a copy of a sermon written by Vicar David Hoth, and of course, the bulletin for this week is below!
Hope on a Fig Tree
David H Hoth
Advent 1, year B
November 29, 2020
Grace, Mercy, and Peace from the One Who Was, The One Who Is, and The One Who Is To Come; Amen.
So, Happy New Year! This is the first Sunday of Advent, so the first Sunday of the new year. Year B, the year of the Gospel of Mark; the paraments turn blue. It’s a new year, things should be changing, right? Then why are we still in this cycle of waiting. Waiting for The Son of Man to come, and do stuff. Like bring in the New Jerusalem, the New world, the new…stuff.
Although I have to say I have some new insight into Advent as a season, and it makes some of the rest of it make sense. You see, I always thought that Advent was the warm-up, the prequel to Christmas. It doesn’t get the respect it deserves certainly. We go from the groaning tables of Thanksgiving to the gift-laden trees of Christmas, we forget about the time in between, Advent. Sort of the middle child, the one no remembers. And in case you’re wondering, I’m the youngest. No one forgets me. My brother Al, though… And that’s what it’s like with Advent, it’s just there. It’s fly-over country, like Iowa.
So, I looked up Advent and found a site called Christianity.com. I learned a few things, which helped today’s reading make sense. If you noticed the Gospel starts out with Jesus speaking. But isn’t Advent about the Baby Jesus, and waiting for him? Not yet, that comes soon, but not yet. Advent is a time of waiting, waiting for someone to come, yes. The name is from the Latin, Adventus, which means “to come”. In week one and two we wait for the Second Coming of Christ; week three and four we wait for the first coming of Christ. Maybe a bit backwards, but that’s how it goes. We start with adult Jesus, and end up in week four with baby Jesus, right before Christmas. But we have to wait before we get there. And that’s hard.
And that’s also ironic. Because of all the gospels one of the things that sets Mark apart is how quickly things happen. The word “immediately” occurs 42 times, in the shortest of all the gospels. Jesus “Immediately” does this, and then “immediately” does something else. But not here. Here we have to wait. And we don’t want to. We’re tired of it. We’ve spent the last month, beginning three weeks ago in Matthew, waiting and watching. The ten bridesmaids, waiting for the groom. The servants given money by their master, not knowing when he was going to return. Last week was sheep and goats, again at the second coming of the Son of God, the Groom, the Master, who is Jesus if you hadn’t guessed. Waiting, told to be on guard, awake. Don’t know when it’s gonna finally happen, but be ready.
And I’m tired of it, the waiting. For me, it’s the end of the term. Right now it’s about writing the papers, and checking off projects. Any of the joy of learning new things has likely faded a bit, and I just want to get this done. This coming Friday I have a Zoom meeting with my Synod, Rocky Mountain based in Denver. It’s not so much that I’m worried about the meeting, I just want it done. Can’t we just get past all the waiting, and get on with things?
And let’s not forget what time of year it is. We’re less than three weeks away from Winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Days are shorter, nights are longer and colder. People want to get in and stay in because of the light or absence of light. And then there’s that thing I haven’t mentioned yet, but which is as plain as the mask on my face. It’s been how many months, eight, since we’ve been able to sing hymns in church, and pass the peace, and do all the stuff we want to? The news of vaccines is awesome, but they’re not here yet. How much longer do we have to wait? Like a six-year-old in the back seat, aren’t we there yet?
And Uncle Dave has to be honest and say: NO. We’re not, not yet. All of these gospel texts have been building anticipation for the coming, the Advent, of Christ. Either the second coming, or the first. For Advent is about the coming of Christ, both as God and as baby. And that waiting is hard, especially in a time of anxiety over disease, and a time of shorter and colder days, and just a hard time in general. And unlike most of Mark, nothing here is happening “Immediately”. Jesus isn’t doing anything quickly in today’s gospel. He’s taking his own time. Like he’s God or something. Hmm.
So for all the complaining I have about this text, and how I wish we’d get some revelation of good news, news that we can see and touch and smell, we don’t get that today, not yet. But we do get hope, in the form of fig leaves. Right in the middle of this gospel, where nothing happens quickly, and we’re told to wait longer even if we’re already been waiting forever it seems, we get a sign of hope. In a fig leaf. Let’s go back a bit, starting with verse 28:
“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 he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Mark 13: 28-31.
Mark was written around 70. So, Mark is writing this gospel not quite 40 years after Jesus’ death. This passage in Mark, in the season of Advent, occurs as Jesus and the disciples are traveling to Jerusalem. Jesus knows he’s going there to die. Jesus is saying that the Son of Man will come back in his glory soon. That was the expectation, that the coming, the Advent of Jesus would happen quickly. Waiting nearly 2000 years was not on anyone’s mind.
And we still wait, for the physical return, the second Advent of Jesus. But then there’s that fig leaf. And that’s hope. That odd fig leaf is a sign of new life; when the branch softens as it fills with rising sap in the spring; when the new leaves start to bud and unfurl. Then the Advent, the coming, will occur. Not the advent of Baby Jesus, but the advent of Jesus Son of God, Savior of Humanity. At the time of new growth, that Advent will occur.
But for now, in the dark, we wait. More. And it sucks, if I may be so bold. And we wait with our masks on, waiting for a vaccine. Waiting to be able to sing in harmony again. No Easter hymns or Christmas carols this year, not like most years. But they will return. And so will the handshakes, and the hugs from those so inclined. But until then we wait. For the Advent of new days, of new health, of a new hour. It seems like we’ve been waiting a lot, and that’s not wrong. But Jesus won’t fail us or forsake us. We need to wait longer. I’m as bad at that as anyone. Days are about to slowly get longer. Light will return, bit by bit; minute by minute. If we can wait for that to happen.
As we await the Advent of Jesus’s coming, either as the son of Mary and Joseph or as the Son of Humanity, we need to wait with confidence and hope. And we can do this, with faith in God’s care and love. So, as much as we don’t want to, we can wait a bit longer. Wait for a sign of new growth, of hope. Wait for a leaf on a fig tree. Amen.
Blessing of the Household for Thanksgiving Day from Bread for the Day: Daily Bible Readings and Prayers, Augsburg Fortress
We gather this day to give thanks to God for the gifts of this land and its people, for God has been generous to us.
As we ask God's blessing upon this food we share, may we be mindful of the lonely and the hungry.
I give thanks to my God always for you because
of the grace of God that has been given you in
Christ Jesus, for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind- just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you- so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may
be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Cor. 1:4-8)
Let us pray,
God most provident, we join all creation in offering you praise through Jesus Christ. For generations the people of this land have sung of your bounty. With them, we offer
you thanksgiving for the rich harvest we have received
at your hands. Bless us and this food that we share with
grateful hearts. Continue to make our land fruitful, and let
our love for you be seen in our pursuit of justice and
peace and in our generous response to those in need.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
May Christ, the living bread,
bring us to the feast of eternal life.
Come join us for worship!
Sunday services are offered at three times in three locations.
Choose what fits your schedule!
Christ Lutheran Church:
1420 Center Mills Road
Aspers, PA 17304
Bethlehem Lutheran Church:
126 Church Street
St. James Lutheran Church:
2017 Wenksville, Road
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Bendersville:
Bendersville Lutheran Parish traces its origins to 1836, when German Lutheran and Reformed families first held worship services at Fissels' (also called Baldwins) School House, located on what is now the Wenksville Methodist Church parking lot. Eventually some families from the Fissel's School house church organized their own congregation in 1840 in Bendersville. By 1845 the first church building had been erected, and the Lutheran and Reformed congregations worshiped in it on alternate Sundays. From 1851 to 1880 Bethlehem Church was attached to the Lutheran Church in Arendtsville. In 1880 Bethlehem, along with Wenksville, St. Paul's Lutheran in Biglerville, and Benders Lutheran, formed their own joint parish. In 1896 the first part of our current sanctuary was built. The need for greater pastoral coverage led in 1912 to the founding of the Bendersville Lutheran Parish proper, comprised of the St. James, Wenksville, and Bendersville churches.
St. James Lutheran Church, Wenksville:
Though officially organized as a congregation in 1878, St. James existed for forty years prior to then as part of the congregation worshiping at the Fissel's School House. In 1872 what were then known as the "Lutheran and Methodist Societies" erected a building at the site of the present Methodist Church in Wenksville.
In 1878 the Lutherans officially organized as a separate congregation, though still sharing worship space with the Methodists. A fire which destroyed the church in 1891 led to St. James moving across the street and erecting its own building.
Christ Lutheran Church, Aspers:
Originally, families living in Aspers needed to travel to Bendersville to worship. By 1914, a group of these Aspers families decided to branch off from Bethlehem to establish a church in their community. Within a year the new congregation became part of the Bendersville Lutheran Parish.