In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If they do these things when the tree is green, what will they do when it is dry? If they kill their Creator, what will they not do? Green wood is not good for burning; it just smokes. It’s dry wood that is good for burning. And things appear to be getting pretty dry. We heard Jesus tell us in the Gospel last week that there would be wars and rumors of war; famines and earthquakes; disasters; signs in heaven and on earth. These are the birth-pains as this age, this creation, comes to its completion, signified by the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. And what Jesus says to the women lamenting His death about things in their days, He could just as well say to us in our day. Don’t weep for Me; don’t mourn My death. Weep, instead, for yourselves and for your children. Weep for the havoc sin wreaks. Weep for your sin and the sin of others, that overwhelms you. And weep for the death that causes all this grief. Weep because everything’s upside down. The days are coming when people will say, Blessed are the barren. Blessed are the breasts of a mother that have never nursed a child. They will say to the mountains, Fall on us. And to the hills, Cover us. When the gift of children is changed into the blessing of barrenness, and the blessing of life is exchanged for the longing for death, things are upside down. The tree is dry and ready for burning.
But things have been dry for a long time—ever since Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, unsatisfied with being creatures of a good Creator. And it didn’t take long for the carpentry of sin to take over. We’re barely into the story when it’s necessary to take the dry lumber of this creation and construct an ark to save eight people by means of the same water that destroys. And from then on, most of the great evil in this world has come from people trying to build heaven on earth by means of wood from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Trying to construct some ideal fantasy, some utopia, here and now. And how much evil has come from worshiping the work of our own hands, on smaller or larger scales? What we have built, what we have accomplished, what we have done, whom we have elected. If they did those things when the tree was green, what will they do when it is dry? If they killed the Son of God in flesh, what will be impossible for them? So we keep on building our Babels, trying to make a name for ourselves at the expense of the Name of God.
We look around at our world, at the chaos, bitterness, and unrest, and cynicism can easily take over. An exhaustion that says, who, in their right mind, would bring a child into this world? People say things like that all the time. Who would want to bring a child into a world like this? Blessed are the barren, right? Well, God, for one. God brings a child into this world, by means of a virgin’s womb. He plants a tiny, newborn shoot that grows from the dry and dusty stump of Israel, faithless, idolatrous, rebellious. He plants a tree in the dust and ashes of this creation, east of Eden. And it grows and grows. It’s branches spread so that all people might find shelter under its branches. And it cannot be killed, even when it’s cut down. It rises. It rises and rises, and the fruit of that tree is offered to all people.
Even there, where it’s planted, paradise blooms. Jesus, remember me when You come into Your Kingdom. There, in the midst of that man’s crimes and sin, in the midst of great suffering, dying, and shame—right there—the tree of life is planted, its roots watered by the blood of Life itself. Today, I tell you, you will be with Me in paradise. You can’t go back to Eden; the angel still bars the gate. But wherever Jesus is, there is paradise. There is the tree of life. Just as by a tree the serpent overcame, so by a tree the serpent will be overcome, its head crushed on Calvary.
Even here, where Jesus is; even here, in the midst of suffering, shame, death and dying; disease and depression and difficulty; here is paradise, because the tree of life is here. The tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations, planted at the mouth of the river of life, its fruit flows here in the midst of the dry desert. Come, eat and drink. No cost to you. No price that you can pay. The water of life, and the fruit of that life-giving tree, here for all who need it.
And the branches keep spreading, more and more branches grafted in to the true Vine. More and more eating that fruit. More and more finding paradise right next to them. Today, I tell you, you find paradise where Jesus is. Today, salvation has come to this house. Today, this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/19/16