Two weeks ago, my son Liam and I had the pleasure of hiking through a spruce-spangled meadow across from an old farmstead on the North Range Cross Road. It was a brisk, damp day, and we meandered through row upon row of conifers, all shapes and sizes. A few transient songbirds chirped out their perfunctory carols of goodwill. On the branches, red plastic “ready for harvest” tags bristled in the breeze like pennants on fairy castles. This was in fact Dave Thomas’ Christmas tree farm, and Liam and I were shopping -- for a Christmas tree, of course.
The tree now sits in our front room in a commanding position at the foot of the stairs. On its branches, hedgehogs and owls co-exist side by side without fear or aggression, whimsical symbols of Isaiah’s coming reign of Peace. As I admire the tree’s simple beauty, I also feel good about where it came from: I am pretty certain that more trees will be planted on Dave’s farm to keep production rolling at least for a while. Evergreen trees will continue to benefit birds and bugs and the air. And even though there is only a stump left now where our little tree once stood, underneath the soil are vast acres of roots, waiting to push up new shoots.
Isaiah, Prophet of Israel, compared the King of the aggressive nation of Assyria to a poacher, who boasts: “I have removed the boundaries of peoples and have plundered their treasures… My hand has found, like a nest, the wealth of the peoples; as one gathers eggs that have been forsaken, so I have gathered all the earth; and there was none that moved a wing, or opened its mouth, or chirped.”
Isaiah’s description of current events continues in that vein, likening the pillaging of Israel to the destruction of a forest. Then suddenly, out of the desolation:
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse….”
From the failed Royal House of David (son of Jesse) would come a leader to renew the hope of Israel. The Wisdom of the Spirit would be with him: he would judge in favour of the poor and lay the destroyer to waste. The reign of this new leader was to be so revolutionary; it would be as if leopards and kid goats could lie down together in peace (like the owls and hedgehogs on my Christmas tree).
In John the Baptist’s address to the crowds who came to see him in the wilderness, the trees were anything but pretty. They were blighted, unable to produce the fruit of peace and justice that Isaiah had hoped for. In John’s vision, the axe was already poised over the roots, ready to topple those “barren trees”, the Pharisees and Sadducees, symbols of all that was unjust and self-serving in Jewish faith and life. In the all-consuming fire of Roman conquest and occupation, the trees would be decimated --- but the roots would not. Beneath that clear-cut landscape of corruption and fear, the roots remained: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul mind and strength. Do justice; love kindness; walk humbly with your God.
Those roots of love & service represent for Christians a tremendous hope: that Christ can come once again; that peace can grow in the barren soil left behind by our inhumanity to one another.
Like Judea in Jesus’ time, our society, our world, is faced with impending multiple crises – political, religious, social, economic & environmental.
Swamped by the changes all around us, we feel powerless to effect change. The dream of a world fully at peace seems impossibly far away. It looks like the lambs and kids will forever be at the mercy of leopards and wolves.
To find the way forward to peace, we need to recover the roots of our faith: loving God and our neighbour as much as we love ourselves – and walking in humility and peace with God.
This is far from easy – that’s why it’s so seldom done. Jesus said “Anyone who wants to be my disciple should pick up her cross and follow me”. What’s the most difficult thing people face? The very thing Christ demonstrated over and over again: to put the needs of another above your own – to do to others as you would wish them to do for you.
I heard an example of this recently. As some of you may have heard, Native Americans are rallying at Standing Rock in South Dakota to protest the construction of an oil pipeline they believe will endanger their health and threaten a sacred river. Their standoff against corporate sponsored police has become a symbol of the historic struggle of 1st Nations People for wholeness in the face of systemic oppression and abuse.
In November hundreds of clergy from the US and beyond arrived at Standing Rock. They supported the 1st Nations contingent with prayer and faithful songs and with words of peace with justice.
This week, about 4,ooo US military veterans came to Standing Rock, not to fight, but to stand as one with Native sisters and brothers – to proclaim through peaceful action that water – and all of God’s creation – is sacred…. To say, in effect, your needs are every bit as important as mine – in fact, they are one and the same.
By their actions, these brave people have shown that we can stand up for the powerless, and against injustice, and we can do so peacefully.
In Church we say that Jesus came to bring peace on earth – our sacred texts tell us this is so. Even in this modern world, beset as it is by all kinds of conflict and inequality, this Golden Age of peace is already present. It is experienced whenever we follow Jesus’ lead, wherever we stand up for peace with justice and wholeness.
Aspen trees like to grow in large groves – you seldom see an Aspen alone
The trees in an Aspen grove share one set of roots, which makes them, in effect, one of the world’s largest organisms.
In this Advent season, let’s see if we can find ways to live out the reality of the peace of Christ. When we love God heartily, when we love one another just as we love ourselves, we are seeing signs of the boundless love of God that unites us as one organism – the Roots of Peace that bind us together as one people, loving children of God-Who-Is-Love.