O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, With needles green unchanging…
I grew up in Washington State. It’s called the Evergreen State, and if you drive through its Cascade Mountains, you know why. Summer, winter, spring or fall, it’s always green. The ground beneath is often dry, brown dust- that’s how the western states are. They’re very dry. But look above you, and it is green. Ever and always green.
An interesting thing about evergreens: Evergreens grow in places where the soil is so nutrient poor that other trees starve trying to grow there. They can take the heat, cold, drought. They are tough in their beauty, resilient in their life.
Which is perhaps why evergreens are used as a metaphor for God’s faithfulness towards us. God’s love… is tough. Resilient.
Whether our hearts are passionately hot or frozen stiff…God’s faithfulness is ever present.
Whether there is so little nutrient in us that we can barely eke out a day… God’s faithfulness is ever-filling.
Whether we feel dry as dust, and there is no life within us… Look above: God’s faithfulness is ever-green, eternal. And not ‘eternal’ by never changing, but eternal because it is ever-renewing.
Not only green in summer’s heat, but also winter’s snow and sleet
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree, With needles green unchanging.
I knew a woman once. She had always been frail, her body never dependable; then her mind began to go, and she was moved into a Memory Loss unit. There are some people who might get frustrated with their bodies, their minds, the people around them; but not her. “I am so grateful to be here,” she’d say. “This is the most wonderful place, with the most wonderful people.” Her faith felt like an evergreen- strong and resilient, even in the midst of adversity.
But it’s not like she didn’t work at it. For her, faith looked more like a verb than a noun. It reminds me of something a fellow UCC minister, Rev. Martin Copenhaver wrote:
“Interestingly, English is the only European language that does not have a verb form of the word faith. In English we do not say, “I faith, you faith, he or she faiths.” If faith is to be properly understood, however, it must be understood as a verb. Faith, like trust, is something we do. Indeed, if language would allow, we would say something like this: ‘I faith sometimes. I wish I could faith more often. I’m working toward faithing in God with all my heart.’ …Some people think that belief and faith are synonymous, but they are not. Imagine that you’re at a circus. A skilled high-wire artist has accomplished so many marvelous feats that the audience has come to believe that he can do almost anything. The ringmaster addresses the crowd: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, how many of you believe that this daring man can ride safely over the high wire on his bicycle while carrying someone on his shoulders? If you believe he can do it, please raise your hand!’ Many in the audience raise their hands. ‘Very well, then,’ says the ringmaster, surveying all the raised hands, ‘now who would like to be the first to volunteer to sit on his shoulders?’ The difference between belief and faith is the difference between staying in your seat and volunteering to climb on the shoulders of the high-wire artist. We may believe that God has ‘the whole world in his hands,’ but faith is the act of trust by which we put ourselves in God’s hands.”
But when we do that- when we let go of all the things we grasp onto…as if grasping onto them could bring us life; when we let go and reach for the hand of God…then something happens. We begin to grow resilient, able to live in rugged soil and adverse circumstances… The highs and the lows, the hot and the cold of our lives don’t throw us like they used to. And we find ourselves being renewed- being ‘greened’ in ways we never imagined possible.
What if that were true, dear friends? What if that were true, that this wondrous thing might happen to us?
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
Your branches teach me also
That hope and love and faithfulness,
Are sacred things I can possess.
O Christmas tree, O Christmas tree,
May our faith be wedded to the ever-green, ever-living love of God, who will never let us go. Amen.