My college botany professor was a bit of a strange fellow. He had a good sense of decorum as far as plants might be concerned. With people, though, he lived just outside the realm of expectation.
One day my professor explained the idea of “dormancy” in plants. If someone prunes a tree too dramatically, the tree could respond by going into a deep tree-sleep, not putting out leaves or fruit or new growth—perhaps for years. However, a person could shock a tree out of dormancy. “Once,” he told us, “a tree had split, so I cut it off straight across the trunk, six feet from the ground. Nothing but a trunk. It went into dormancy and just sat there for three years. I was sure that it still lived, so I stood there in the yard one day, took off my belt, and whipped that tree to wake it up.” We students pictured the bizarre image of our professor, safari hat on head, belt in hand, whipping his maple tree in the suburbs.
John the Baptist tells the gathered folks that trees need to demonstrate their worth by doing what trees do—producing good fruit. Rather than being allowed to stand dormant, John notes that “the ax is lying at the root of the trees.” They will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Preparing ourselves to follow Jesus, John says, is our purpose in life, and we must be about that work. What “fruit worthy of repentance” will you bear? How will you prepare for the One who is coming?
Bless me this day, O God, as I search my life for evidence of good fruit. Make me able and willing to produce the goodness and kindness, peace and mercy, to which you call your people. Amen.
The Old Testament roots of Advent hope are cast in royal imagery. The psalm marks the king as one whose work is to bring justice to the weak. The new king makes a new world possible. The Gospel reading is both invitation and warn- ing that we must make concrete decisions to reorder our life in ways appropriate to God’s new intention. Characteristically Paul makes the grand, sweeping claim: The new behavior appropriate to God’s new governance is that the strong and the weak, the haves and have-nots, relate to each other in new faithfulness. Advent is spent pondering speci c decisions about bringing our daily life into sync with God’s rule.
• Read Isaiah 11:1-10. When do you allow yourself “fallow” time? How does that time of “resting” nurture your fruitful- ness?
• Read Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19. This prayer for the king expresses the qualities that the people desire in a leader. What would you add to the list?
• Read Romans 15:4-13. Paul notes that Christ welcomed you for the glory of God. Consider the last several months: Whom have you welcomed for the glory of God?
• Read Matthew 3:1-12. What is growing in your heart’s wil- derness this Advent season?
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