There is a story told by John Shea, (the legend of the Bells) that when God was making trees, he gave a gift to each species. He set up a contest to determine which gift would be most useful to whom. He told them ‘I want you to stay awake and keep watch over the earth for seven nights.’ The young trees were so excited to be trusted with such an important task that the first night they would have found it difficult not to stay awake. However, the second night was not so easy, and just before dawn a few fell asleep. On the third night the trees whispered among themselves in an effort to keep from dropping off. Even so, it proved too much for some of them. Still more fell asleep on the fourth night. By the time the seventh night arrived the only trees still awake were the cedar, the pine, the spruce, the fir, the holly and the laurel.
‘What wonderful endurance you have!’ God exclaimed. ‘You shall be given the gift of remaining green forever. You will be guardians of the forest. Even in the seeming dead of winter, your brother and sister trees will find life protected in your branches.’
This story illustrates the two major themes of Advent:Wakefulness in the midst of sleepiness, and greenness in the midst of barrenness.
In the evergreen trees we find a note of gentle but resolute defiance. The surrounding world may be asleep or barren, but these continue to bear witness. They are sustained not so much by their own determination but by the power of God. They show us what our role as Christians is. To be awake among the sleeping, to be green in the midst of the barren. To bear witness to love in the midst of hate, to bear witness to peace in the midst of conflict, to bear witness to light in the midst of darkness.
The Lord asks us his followers to stay awake. To be watchful, faithful disciples. To be ever-green followers of him. We are his witnesses to the world. It is not too much to claim that we are to watch over the world. We are to witness to life and hope in the midst of disruption, upheaval, and death.
When we witness to truth, justice, love and peace we are witnessing to Jesus. The way to witness to truth is to live truthfully. The way to witness to justice is to act justly in all one’s dealings with others. The way to witness to love is to act lovingly towards others. And the way to witness to peace is to live in peace with others.
In other words, the most effective way to witness to Jesus is to live a Christian life. We need his strength to remain steadfast and faithful. His help becomes available to us especially through prayer.
Rejoice and be glad.