About this time of year, when our children were young, we would drive miles into the country to a Christmas tree farm to select a tree for the season’s celebration. The process blended careful analysis and exuberant impulsivity to find the “perfect tree.” Our children scampered down the rows of evergreens through acres of trees. They would ask many times, “What about this one?”
Like earthborn incense, the scent of pine, spruce, and fir filled the air. We were on a tour of creation’s growth and renewal, seeking an evergreen symbol of life and hope.
There were other families exploring the farm as we were, seeking their own treasure in the field. The distant sounds of happy voices and excited children echoed through the crisp December air.
Around Gaudete Sunday, we would return to the farm and harvest the tree. At the time, we had an old station wagon. The paint had faded, but the car had proved reliable and had a roof rack ideal for carrying our tree home.
One year after setting up the tree, we discovered an empty bird’s nest hidden in the boughs. Its temporary role in the cycle of life had passed, but for us, it was a little gift – a wild reminder of nature’s thriving – a small glimpse of God’s life-giving Spirit – present in all creatures.
In one of the parables of the Kingdom, Jesus compared God’s reign to the smallness of a mustard seed, “But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” (Mark 4:32)
St. Ignatius of Loyola, 16th-century mystic and founder of the Jesuits, emphasized a core principle of our spiritual lives, that we have the ability to “find God in all things.” This insight invites us to awaken to all of life’s meaningful surprises – the graced happenings, even the smallest experiences we have as we walk through the fields of family life. Being with family, strolling together through the fields, enjoying the excitement, anticipating celebration, here grace is happening.
Our lives are full of evergreen – enduring hope in life’s goodness – life-sustaining moments that point to and hold the mystery and majesty of God’s grace.
As we walk through Advent and gather to pray around the Advent wreath, let us be mindful of the evergreen happenings and our enduring hope in God’s graceful presence.