Turn again, O God of hosts;
look down from heaven, and see;
have regard for this vine,
the stock that your right hand planted.
Advent is the season of preparation where we tell the old, old story of the coming of Christ as we wait and watch for his return. This first week of Advent our attention is turned to Psalm 80. It includes a beautiful image of God as a gardener. His people are like a grapevine that God dug up out of the soil of slavery and tenderly carried through the wilderness until it could be planted in good ground. God’s care was complete and allowed the vine to put down deep roots and bear good fruit. But, the Psalmist says, after careful cultivation, the planting could be destroyed in an instant if God ceased to nurture and protect it.
When my wife and I bought our first home there was a large sumac growing right at the foundation. Recognizing the danger to the structural integrity of the house (and in my opinion, the ugliness of the sumac) I promptly dug it up. A few months later there were new shoots quickly growing from the same spot. I once again dug them up, only to see them return the following spring. My battle with the sumac continued summer after summer. For three years in a row, I pruned the sumac to the ground and covered the cut with concentrated Roundup, something I hardly ever use. It wasn’t until the ninth year in the house that the stubborn sumac finally gave up. I’ve left the dead stump in the ground out of sheer spite.
What really drove me crazy was that while the sumac I was trying to kill kept living, the garden right next to it suffered all kinds of casualties! I’d lose entire crops of tomato to blight, have tender pepper plants scorched by the sun, and watch rows of pea plants nibbled off by rabbits. Isn’t it strange how in gardens, and life, the junk that threatens foundations grows quickly and refuses to die, while the things that bear good fruit take constant nurture and cultivation?
The “Christmas Season” in our culture is a time of frantic activity and high expectations. A time when we are flooded with advertising telling us that our worth is defined by our ability to give a Lexus with a bow to our spouse or set a table that is Pinterest worthy for every gathering. There can be a lot of energy invested in things that in the long run won’t produce much good fruit.
By contrast, the Season of Advent in the church is a reminder to invest our time, relationships, and resources in things that will cultivate good and lasting fruit. The kind of fruit that requires long-term nurture and patient care. To get that kind of slow growth we need to slow down ourselves!
Jesus might well have been thinking of Psalm 80 when he talked about God the gardener. He tells us that:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
What can you cultivate in your Advent season that helps you slow down and abide in the source of good and lasting fruit?