I grew up looking at a particular oak tree. It was a pin oak, just below the house, in view of my bedroom window. It sat at the head of a spring that had never run dry in my father’s time nor in mine. It was massive, dominating the landscape with its large canopy of limbs and leaves, easily four feet in diameter at chest level. I played around it, but could never climb it, as there were no limbs low enough to grab hold of. The tree saw an awful lot of “cowboys and Indians,” hide and seek, and the like. It continued to stand proudly on the landscape until the day it didn’t. Hurricane Isabel knocked it flat, root ball and all.
I decided to saw the tree for lumber since I owned a portable sawmill at the time. The first order of business was separating the trunk from the root ball. Because I am a lover of tools, I owned a large enough chainsaw to do the job – a Stihl 088 w/ a 36 inch bar. (If you don’t know what that is, be impressed anyway…) Even cutting down both sides of the trunk there was still a small piece in the middle I couldn’t get, a situation that called for the old two-man crosscut saw. My father was a good sport about all of this. In the end, the trunk was separated and I was able to count the rings on the tree – a total of 70.
In the event you don’t know, that’s a pretty young tree to be so big. A tree that large usually has well over a hundred-fifty rings. But the tree never had to work for water or nutrients. It sat over top a good spring at the edge of a cattle pasture. Of course it grew big. But it never went deep.
This is the week in the advent season where we read about the prophecies of Jesus’ birth. We also read about that incredible man, Joseph. This is a man who was faced with the worst possible situation he could have imagined – his fiancé had become pregnant and he knew he wasn’t the father. Yet there is no thirst for revenge, only the quiet determination not to bring anymore hurt into Mary’s life. He would end the engagement quietly.
It was an angelic visitor delivering a special message that put Joseph into an even more uncomfortable spot. Joseph was told the unique, miraculous nature of Mary’s circumstances and instructed to continue his engagement – and his protection – to Mary. We’ve heard the story often enough that it can lose its edge, its awkwardness, its pain, and of course its joy. Joseph would not fall over in the strong wind of adversity, but would complete his duty with obedience and tenderness.
The prophet Isaiah is sent to the king of Judah and tells Ahaz to trust in God for victory, even though three nations have joined forces to overthrow his kingdom. The passage ends with the incredible promise of a young woman, a virgin, conceiving and bringing into the world a savior. But in the middle of the conversation between prophet and king, God says to Ahaz, “If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.” (Is.7:9b NRSV).
Faith is about believing that God will accomplish what he has promised. For the Christian, it is about Jesus Christ and the promise that God is reconciling the world to Himself through Christ. We are being made fit for heaven here, in this place and at this time. When I go through tough times, I’m being called to put down deeper roots. Illness, depression, “the dark night of the soul” where it seems we can’t even pray, difficulties in our relationships and in our marriage.
The temptation is to always want to “drink from the spring,” take the easy path, or think that our difficulties mean God has abandoned us. We easily forget the lives of those gone before us, the saints, the martyrs, and those that live on in Christ. We are on a journey of transformation. Here’s to going deeper.