Reading: Isaiah 64:1 (Click to read text)
Reflection: What do oak leaves have to do with Advent? Absolutely nothing . . . and everything . . . depending on your perspective. As I was reading the scriptures for this Sunday, this verse from Isaiah 64:1 struck me: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence . . .” As Christians, we often look for “signs” - and sometimes we expect God to hit us over the head with them! But our heavenly Father does not always come to us in the ways we expect. And sometimes, we simply do not see what is right in front of us.
In I Kings, Elijah is facing some seemingly insurmountable challenges and is about to give up. But the Lord told him to stand on the mountain, and that He would pass by: “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart . . . but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper . . .” (I Kings 19:11b-12)
This reminds me of my own recent experience. My husband, Jamie, and I had planned to purchase grave plots soon so that our children would not have to worry about it. But with his untimely passing, the task fell to me. My son, Elliot, offered to go with me to find a final resting place for Jamie. But when we went to choose grave plots, nothing seemed right to us. Then I remembered that the woman in the office had mentioned there were a few plots available by the Civil War circle. Remembering that Jamie had always loved history, we decided to look at those, and after a few minutes standing there, they just "felt" right.
A week or two after Jamie was buried, I visited the grave site and sat and talked with him. It felt so very peaceful there, almost uncannily so. A few days later, I returned and sat and talked with him some more. But this day it was quite windy and the leaves had begun to fall from the trees. I noticed for the first time that oak leaves were scattered around and on his grave, and entwined in the flowers that lay there. I smiled as I thought how the oak leaf is a symbol of strength and perseverance. Have you ever noticed that an oak leaf will cling to the branches long after all the other trees have shed their leaves? Sometimes an oak leaf will even remain on the tree until the following spring.
I felt the ring that hung around my neck and looked down at the ring that I wore on my own finger. About a year and a half ago, we had decided to splurge and buy each other matching oak leaf rings. Jamie had lost his wedding band years before and this always bothered him. We were coming up on 20 years of marriage and had come through so much together that it only seemed fitting that we commemorate it with these rings as a symbol of our own strength and perseverance – and as a symbol of God’s unfailing presence and love. Jamie especially loved the rings because he himself had been the last person left at the Reed Hann Litho plant before the business closed its doors for good - just like that oak leaf in the spring. And just as spring is a symbol of new birth, he walked out of that job and into a new beginning at Ralph Alberts Company.
It was then that God opened my eyes and I saw that He had led us to that very spot. The Lord did not come to me in a dramatic way, but in the still, soft whisper of the falling leaves. He was speaking to me on that day through that oak tree, reminding me that He is with us to give us strength, and just as our family had come through so much together, He would see us through this, too.
As I thought about this, I remembered how Jamie had always picked up pretty leaves in the fall and tenderly handed them to me as "gifts" and I imagined that he had collected all the leaves on his grave especially for me. I scooped up a handful of them and took them home to remind me of his love for me, and to remind me that life is filled with blessings if only we will allow ourselves to see the signs. We don't always see the blessings clearly, but God opens our eyes to them when the time is right.
Where are the oak leaves in your life this Advent? As we enter the season of Hope, let us remember that the King of Kings did not come with great fanfare but rather as a humble child born in a stable. And as we set about the busyness of the season, may we seek some quiet time to allow the Lord to open our hearts and our minds to receive the simple blessings that come to us in the stillness as signs of His unfailing love - and look forward with joy to the precious gift of His Son to our waiting world. (Oh, by the way . . . most of the trees in the cemetery are maples.) --Kathy Wither, Messiah Lutheran Church, South Williamsport
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