Questioning Advent: Day 20 – Uprooted Trees and the Ground of Being

IMG_1965Every day or so I stop by the Christmas tree we have up in the sanctuary and check the water levels in the tree stand. And almost every time I end up filling a pitcher with water and filling the empty stand. Others haven been doing this too. The other day a parishioner remarked, “That tree sure does drink a lot.”

This is a particularly thirsty tree. I have no idea how many gallons of water that tree has soaked up right before since we cut it down right before the first Sunday of Advent.

But, if you think about it, that’s pretty remarkable. Even though that tree has been cut down, removed from the snowy field it stood in for years, and brought to the relatively warm church sanctuary where it now resides, it still instinctively knows how to sustain itself. Even though it is rootless, it still draws knows how to live.

Sometimes it can feel like we are rootless too. We can get so far away from what is important, and what sustains us, that we might feel like we’ve just been uprooted and dragged off to another place. We might feel as disconnected from what sustains us as an indoor Christmas tree.

Sure, occasionally we might get a taste of the living waters again. We might get just enough to help us to stay alive. And in that moment we will know to drink. But, in the end, if we stay unrooted, will we ever really thrive?

Come January 6th our church Christmas tree is going to go to some mulch pile or wood chipper. As beautiful as it is, the tree wouldn’t last much longer than that, even if we kept pouring in pitchers full of water. And that makes sense. Eventually what isn’t rooted and grounded in what can give it new life just won’t last.

You and I, we aren’t Christmas trees. We know that. But sometimes it might feel as though we have grown as spiritually dry as a cut pine tree in January. We might long for the places where we used to be planted. We may wish we could just go back to that place we remember and grow again.

The good news, of course, is that we can. Unlike that tree that’s never going back in the ground, the “ground of being”, as Paul Tillich used to call it, is ready to welcome us back. God is ready for us to be replanted and to put down our roots once again. And God is waiting for us to drink up the living water that God wants to give to us.

In the Christmas season, we often find ourselves spiritually connected in ways that we aren’t all year. By a few months later that feeling is often gone. But it doesn’t have to be. This year, stay connected. That feeling you get on Christmas Eve, surrounded by glowing candles in a darkened church, it doesn’t have to come just once a year. Plant yourself in rich soil, and you can be nourished in every season.

Question: What are the ways that you feel rooted in God during the Christmas season, and how can you stay rooted that way all year?

Prayer: God of all creation, even when we are far away from you, we still thirst for your living water. This year, help us to find our roots in you, and in others. Connect us in community. Strengthen us as your body. And help us to find joy and new life all the year long. Amen.

Questioning Advent: Day One – Hope and Christmas Trees

West Dover Congregational Church's 2013 Christmas tree.

West Dover Congregational Church’s 2013 Christmas tree.

Last Friday, on the day after Thanksgiving, one of my church’s members and I went out to another family’s property and cut down the church’s Christmas tree. It’s a big tree this year, tall and round, and we struggled a couple of times as we dragged it back up a hill and threw it in the back of his pick-up. Nevertheless, we eventually got it to the church, set it up, and left it there for the children of the congregation to decorate today.

We do this every first Sunday of Advent. Years ago the parishioners who own the land where we cut down the tree bought a bunch of saplings at a fundraiser. They planted them in the ground, and by a few years back they were growing big enough to serve as Christmas trees. That couple goes to Florida every winter, but before they leave they tie a ribbon around one tree for the church to cut down. It’s their gift to us every Advent.

This morning the tree was there in the sanctuary as we lit the first Advent candle, the one that traditionally signifies hope. I thought about those little saplings that were bought years ago, and the hope that the man who planted them had for them. And I thought about how they grew into trees so big that they had to be dragged breathlessly up hills.

For me, Advent is about waiting and watching. In Advent we look at the world through eyes that want to see Jesus. That means we look at the world through hopeful eyes and, in many cases, we learn to see what is already right in front of us. If we look closely, we just might find that all around us there are already reminders of Christ’s presence. Maybe even in the most mundane of things. Maybe even in the hope that makes someone buy a few saplings and plant them, hoping that one day he can give them to his church as they wait and watch for Christ together.

Last year I undertook a spiritual discipline of writing daily Advent devotionals. I shared them on social media, but mostly I did them for a selfish reason: I am much better at seeing Christ around me in Advent when I make myself take time everyday to look. This year I’m doing these devotionals again for the same reason, though also with the hope that might speak to others on this same journey. This year I’m adding something else: a question a day. Sometimes it will just be one for reflection. Sometimes it will spur us to some sort of action. But I hope that always it will cause us to see Christ coming, and Christ’s presence, more clearly. So here’s todays:

Question: As you unpack Advent and Christmas decorations, which one speaks to you most about the hope that Christ brings to us all?

Prayer: God, help me to see Christ’s presence today in the ordinary and the extraordinary, and show me the places where hope has already grown into blessing. Amen.