Life gets cold on the edge of the Northern Plains of the United States, where the woods meets the prairie. Right on the edge of the Red River Valley and the Minnesota Lakes country, we can see the bitterest of cold in the depths of winter. Just this last weekend, temperatures – actual temperatures – dipped to almost minus thirty Fahrenheit (-30F). With wind temperatures approaching almost minus fifty Fahrenheit (-50F).
In short – the people up there know how to keep themselves warm, or death comes quickly.
Growing up, we had a wood stove, which required ample supplies of wood to keep the house warm. Many people in our neighborhood had wood burning stoves as well.
In the summer time, trees that were dead were marked, usually with an orange ‘X’ so that come winter, when all of the healthy trees lay dormant, we would know which trees were dead – so that we could thin the woods and remove the dead wood.
Advent is like that too – it is time to remove the dead wood from our lives. It is a time to mark things with an ‘X,’ to prepare our hearts and minds for the coming of Jesus. It is no surprise that we use evergreen boughs to decorate our hearths and homes at Christmas time. That symbol of ever fresh, ever new, and ever growing greenness even in the dead of winter.
Advent is a time of preparation – not only for Christmas, but for the coming of God in our day, in our lives. People of faith have no doubt that they will see the Lord – if at no other time, then at the end of our days on this earth.
More than about pruning our lives of dead wood – of sin – it is also, as John the Baptist so rightly tells us – time to ensure that we are producing good fruit.
How do we produce good fruit? Rooted firmly in faith, nourished in unending hope, and watered with charity – love with grow. Pure love. Unselfish. Courageous. Christ-like love. It is the fruit that we are called to grow and to become.
It is no coincidence that Christian means ‘little Christ’ – for if God is love, and Christ was the son of God, and we are called to be like Christ – doesn’t it then make sense that we are called to be and become love here on earth?
Our lives are not simple. We are pulled in many directions. We must navigate through the minefields of life. It often hurts. Because as much as we try, we end up carrying a lot of dead wood around with us – and other’s dead wood, others lack of love (caring, empathy, understanding, forgiveness), burdens us too.
But during Advent, we are reminded and called again to become what we are called to be. We are called to yield much fruit. To love and be loved. To grow in faith, hope, and charity. To give the gifts of love to others.
Advent is a time for patience – but it doesn’t mean that it is a time of inaction. Indeed, now is time, the winter of our lives, and if we wish to blossom in the spring, bask in the sun in summer – and harvest abundantly in the fall, now is the time to act.