Advent offers a counterbalance to our frantic lives. It invites us to a darkening, quiet, reflective time. It asks us to ponder with Mary the order of a disordered world. With her we wonder why God picked that time and place to reach down and give birth to a new way of being? Can we birth that hope again, this season, in a world gone mad with consumption? Can we take one step away from the glitzy enticements of the season? If you are reading this, it is a certainty that you have already taken many steps away from the things of this world. Can we all go just a little deeper, no matter where we are in our advocacy? Can we? Somewhere deep inside us there is a voice that says “please”, please put aside the frenzy. Listen to the urging of that voice! Name one thing that will take you deeper into the season, and then go there.
We invite you to take a breath and feel the peace that the Prince of Peace wants each of us to have in honor of his coming. Six times you will be blessed with an advent reflection that we hope will take you deeper. Let us journey together to Bethlehem.
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2:15
One of the most famous trees (though it is a different one each year) in the country, is the one that is displayed each year in Rockefeller Center in Manhattan throughout the Christmas season. This year a roughly 75 year old, 76-foot-tall Norway Spruce has the “honor.” It is 46 feet in diameter, and weighs 12 tons! No doubt it was a thing of beauty to behold in its natural setting. And hopefully at least some who see it will still be inspired with visions of eternal life that have historically been the reason we turn to evergreens for this purpose.
But its natural beauty is to be shrouded with approximately 45,000 multi-colored twinkling LED lights, and topped with a “breathtaking” Swarovski crystal star that is 9.5 feet in diameter, and weighs in at 550 pounds! Talk about “guilding the lily!” One wonders whether this once beautiful symbol of eternal life has now become instead a symbol of commodification of nature for profit.
A second, and more recently famous tree is actually immortalized in a bronze sculpture of the roots of a Sycamore tree that once stood in the historic cemetery of St. Paul’s Chapel. The tree had been knocked over by debris from the Twin Towers on 9-11but missed all the gravestones and chapel. Called “Trinity Root” by its creator, Steve Tobin, it is installed on the grounds of Trinity Wall Street Episcopal Church.
In the description which accompanies the sculpture, the artist speaks of how the connected tendrils of the tree’s roots are akin to the network of human interconnections which helped the city to survive the terrible events of 9-11. It is this kind of Human interconnection that will become the basis for the hoped for Peaceable Kingdom toward which all creation groans in travail.
The third tree is a Callery Pear tree found on the site of the Ground Zero memorial. Known as the Survivor Tree, it has a truly dramatic story of survival. Planted at the eastern edge of the original World Trade Center plaza in the 1970s, workers found it damaged and “reduced to an eight-foot-tall stump” in the wreckage at Ground Zero. It was moved to a New York City park and nurtured back to health – that’s 32 feet tall! But then it was blown over in a 2010 wind storm and yet, once more survived to be brought back and restored to the memorial site in time to survive Hurricane Irene’s 40 mph gusts.
The message of these three trees seems to be this: that the same human beings who are capable of cutting down one tree in the name of honoring beauty and faith for the purpose of profit, we can also join together to help another one survive. As we yearn through the season of Advent for the coming “not yet” peaceable kingdom, we have the “always already” presence of the resurrected Christ among us to show us the way to being the stewards we were created to be.
In Mary Oliver’s poem titled “When I Am Among the Trees” her last verse seems to capture the essence of our takeaway as the trees call out to her: “It’s simple … and you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light, and to shine.”
O Lord of trees -- from the smallest shrub to the giant sequoia; from the garden of Eden at the beginning of our story to the Celestial City of Revelation at the end -- help us to make a straight path in the wilderness of our world by learning to weave among and care for the trees of our earth. Amen
This week's entry was written by Fred Milligan, a PC(USA) pastor who serves on the PEC steering committee. A former Associate for Stewardship Education with the GAMC, Fred currently provides stewardship consulting services through The Generous Steward Consulting as well as serving as an Interim Pastor at the Newtown Presbyterian Church, in Newtown, Pa.