They say that if you creep into an evergreen forest late at night you can hear the trees talking. In the whisper of the wind, you’ll catch the older pines explaining to the younger ones why they’ll never be perfectly shaped. There will always be a bent branch here, a gap there. Long, long ago, evergreens were perfect, with each taking pride in branches sloping evenly from crown to symmetrical skirt. Every tree endeavored to grow its branches and needles to perfection. All strained at the task, fully concentrating on their form and appearance. Each vied for the honor of being the Queen’s Christmas tree and reigning in the great castle hall, shimmering with silver balls and golden angels that sparkled in the light of a thousand candles.
One cold night, a small pine, who had the promise of being the finest in the forest, heard the yelping of dogs in the thrill of the hunt. As a small rabbit, eyes wide with fright, frantically searched for cover, the young tree dipped its branches down to the ground and the rabbit found safety within an evergreen screen. When the rabbit found its burrow the next morning, the little pine could not quite lift its branches. Then a powerful blizzard lashed the land, and a small brown wren desperately sought sanctuary in the evergreens but each tree she approached clenched its branches tight like a fist. Finally in exhaustion, the bird fell into the little pine. The pine’s heart opened and so did its branches, and the wren slept within them, warm and secure. But the pine had difficulty rearranging its branches.
As winter deepened, a strong gale caught a small fawn who had wondered from its mother. As the fawn sought a windbreak, the trees held their branches open so the wind could whistle through them without breaking or bending their limbs. Again the little pine took pity, closed its branches, forming an impenetrable wall behind which the fawn huddled out of the gale. But alas, when the wind ceased, the small pine had been severely and permanently bent out of shape. Now it could never hope for the honor it had longed for since a seedling.
Lost in despair, the little pine did not see the Queen come into the forest to choose the finest tree herself. When she saw the small pine in the royal forest she made a mental note to have a woodsman dispose of it and drove on, but then she stopped and glanced back at it. As she gazed on it, she noticed the tracks of small animals that had found shelter under it and a downy feather within its branches where a bird had nested. And as she studied the gaping hole in its side and its wind-whipped trunk, understanding filled her heart. The Queen chose the little pine and brought it to the great hall for in it she saw the love of Christ expressed on earth.
So if you walk among the evergreens today, you will find, along with rabbits, birds and other living things, drooped branches providing cover, gaps offering nesting places, forms bent from wrestling winter winds. For, as have many of us, the trees have learned that the scars suffered for the sake of others make one most beautiful in the eyes of God. (Matt 25:40) I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.
John Wooden once said, “Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” The challenge of the Christian is to be like Jesus. Christian in fact means, “Christ like.” It is interesting what I see in my children. There are certain things that they do or say that remind me of Vickie or of me or a grandparent. Even when I sit down and look at old photos I can see me or their mother in each of them.
(John 14:9) Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.
How do we know that we are a Christian? Because we can see Jesus in our own lives. When we stand before God, God doesn’t have to ask, “Have you seen my son?,” because He can see the son in our faces. We stand on the edge of a new millennium. When will Jesus return the second time? “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.
A lady in a nursing home wheels her chair through the halls, stopping everyone she meets. “Have you seen my son?” “He promised he’d come today.” Perhaps she has forgotten that her son died several years ago. Or perhaps she waits for him to come back to take her with him. In any case, her vigilance is constant, “Have you seen my son?”
It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back-whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: `Watch!'”
That is the story of Advent! It asks the question, “Have you seen My Son?” And then invites us to WATCH and WAIT!