Jesus is the olive branch, because he is the first, he’s the first fruit. When you’re able to recognize that he is life for the first time, let’s see, maybe it’s around 30 AD and everything‘s bad, both up and down and all around the Mediterranean Coast. In every direction, it’s just frustration and malaise and indifference. But an indifference that is strangely indignant. Maybe these different societies crammed around the Sea, like yours, have run their course as they ran their philosophies and mythologies, like confused ships or spent horses, into the ground; into a tired, jumbled deadness.
And that’s the winter of Jesus’ birth, the same winter of humanity He walked into. And within and from and to this winter, Jesus is this first sprig of life. He’s the very first flower or tender shoot on the tree after a long, maybe a forever, winter. And Jesus says a new branch on a tree should let you know something about what season is coming.
“Doesn’t it let you know that spring is almost here and winter is over and that summertime is coming and harvest time is coming?” And so he was the first living branch of the dying tree of David, a wintered and cold David; not the last branch of a great, living, vibrant tree. He is the first King, not the last. He is the beginning of Spring, not the end of harvest, just before winter. He is like the olive branch given to Noah, not Aaron’s staff. He’s something like that and I just think that’s neat because you, we, I, often get the idea that Jesus was and is the last, maybe the last flower of spring or the last chance, or the last thing you need to see or do before the cold, hard winter of life sets in. I’m not saying I’m right, but he’s the first. And you know what’s coming because of the first. You know all of it in the same way you know what spring and summer look like because you can predict what it looks like, and because you’re in winter currently and then you see the first bud, the first tender twig, and then you know what’s coming and you can rest assured, you can bet what’s coming next: spring. And Jesus says the kingdom of heaven is something like that. You can, when you first see life, you do, you know right then, and once again, what is death. That very moment, winter is surprised by spring.
And you know what this new life is, just starting, and so you can predict what and when spring time, summer and harvest time will be, and in some sense, in that sense, you don’t have to question what this new life is or will be.
You don’t have to wonder if winter will always be and frost will forever cover your life in the same way the floodwaters didn’t forever cover the earth. And so Noah could absolutely thank God for giving him a tiny sprig of an olive tree while surviving on the flood, because he knew something. He knew the olive branch meant he would soon have a home and even what “home” would look like and that one day soon he would be on his knees thanking God again on a green earth. He would follow the flight and sail the course of that branch.
To worry at that new moment of Jesus, during the long Mediterranean winter and flood, and wonder whether the star of Jesus was only a shooting star, a meteorite, here once and gone, then back to winter; would be failing to understand what the new sprig on the tree meant; failing to understand and asking questions of the tree: “What is this? What happens next? What could this new twig and this new bud and flower mean?” But that’s foolish because we know exactly what it means, in a sense, and so in the same sense to ask Jesus, “What what does this mean—this, in this life, this sudden new life that I see that you are in the midst of all this other wetter, colder, older, deader stuff I have called life? What will happen?” Jesus seems to say that’s sort of a silly question, “Spring is coming and summer is coming. Harvest is coming. Work is coming. Life is coming.”
The fresh, soft, new branch doesn’t arrive just to arrive for its own sake; it arrives to produce flower and fruit. The fruit brings harvest and life. It doesn’t just end with the end of the branch. That’s just the beginning.
You see it’s life. All around the Mediterranean coast is like the mount of olives during winter: stark, no more green, dry and desolate; and all the trees and all the branches are hard and brittle and empty; without purpose, without fruition. And then the harvester of the grove walks up and sees the first, soft, new branch; soft new twig; maybe an early, early bud on one of his olive trees. And he has a reaction and his reaction and his knowledge is: “Ahh! Look at this. Life is happening again,” and maybe how beautiful it seems to be. But he also has this other reaction which is to get out his implements for work and his shears and his baskets and his workers. And he knows that work is coming around and can see how this is going to look. And it’s beautiful too. “Soon it will be full of life and full of work. These go together. Just because it doesn’t look like what it looks like right now, doesn’t mean I don’t know what it will look like later. The dead trees will soon be covered with flowers and fruits. The brown earth will be covered in green.”
Noah could’ve asked the same question: “What’s going to happen? What will my new life look like?” And maybe he did. But if he did, the only answer he received was small and light enough to be clasped in a dove’s beak. And it wasn’t a piece of kryptonite, glowing neon green from another distant and impossible to predict or imagine world. It was an olive branch. And although it was the first life, and new life, it was definitely the same life.
An olive grove was growing in his new world.