“THE SAD TREE”
I cannot read this passage from Jeremiah without thinking about something that happened at Broadway UMC in Waldo where we attended for many years. Several years ago, one of our longtime church members had lost his wife of many years and being a botanist by profession, he decided to leave a living memorial to honor his wife. After seeking permission from the powers that be, he planted a small Tulip Magnolia in her honor on the corner of the front lawn.
I don’t remember exactly when the tree was planted but it went for a whole season without showing any signs of life. The elderly husband would check it occasionally on his way to church but it didn’t seem to be surviving the transplant. In the meantime, the Preschool children of the church, who passed the little tree regularly, on their walks, had dubbed it “the sad tree” because it lacked any signs of life. It had no leaves or blossoms.
Just as the husband decided the tree was dead and made the decision to have it removed, the kids decided in their infinite wisdom that the sad little tree just needed some cheering up. Unbeknownst to anyone at the church, they worked very hard one day cutting out paper flowers and coloring them with brightly colored crayons. The teachers helped with the project by laminating the flowers so the rain wouldn’t destroy them and punching holes in the top so they could tie them with string to the little tree. When the work was all done, the children all marched outside, single file, holding hands and hung their flowers all over the little tree’s branches. When they finished they all stood back and admired their handiwork, deciding that “the sad tree” looked much happier.
When the husband came to church a couple of days later, he realized he couldn’t possibly remove the tree now for fear of hurting the children’s feelings. Later that week, when the people came for worship, they all smiled as they passed the little tree with the crayon colored flowers gently fluttering in the breeze. It was a few weeks later, on the Saturday before Easter at the annual Neighborhood Easter egg hunt, when the paper flowers were faded and fewer in numbers, that one of the preschool children made an important discovery.
A little girl from the preschool was hunting for eggs at the base of the tree when she happened to look up and see something that caused her to shout with excitement. She had discovered a bud. She called her mother over to take a look and after a careful assessment they discovered that the tree was covered with tiny buds, all over. A small crowd formed around the little tree as others were excitedly called and informed of this happy turn of events.
Over the next couple of weeks the children and the church members anxiously watched as the buds grew fat and the little tree finally burst into a colorful array of pink and purple blossoms. The sad tree wasn’t so sad anymore. The children were pleased but not all that surprised at the little tree’s resurrection. The husband smiled every time he thought about telling this story to his wife. And “the sad tree” became a sign of hope and unexpected joy for many that spring and every spring since.
The story of this little tree reminds me of the tenacious hope the prophet Jeremiah offers the people when he speaks of new life springing up from what looks like a dead stump. As inheritors of Jeremiah’s task, we too are called to speak a word of hope and promise in a world filled with fear and uncertainty, even despair — especially in this season of Advent. For in the midst of despair, hope erupts. After long waiting, a branch will sprout. The complete fulfillment of God’s promises is coming. Such is Advent faith.