The Growth Rings of Advent

tree-ringsWait for the Lord. Be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! Psalm 27:14

It’s the Advent season–again. This is the time of year when I prepare for Christmas. My preparations include hanging the same ornaments and the same lights on the same tree that occupies the same place in the house like it does every year. I use the same recipes for the same cookies as I do every year. My kids even put the same items on their Christmas lists as they did last year. We hear the same Bible story and sing the same songs as we do every year. As much as I enjoy the traditions we’ve established as a family, one thing still concerns me–how do I retain meaning in the things that I do at this time of year over and over and over again?

This past summer, when our family went to Yellowstone National Park, we spent time at a nature center. In this building was a display of the end of a tree that had been cut down. Enough growth rings circled the center of the trunk to date the tree as at least one hundred years old. Each layer of growth told the tree’s story. Wide rings indicated plentiful rainfall; narrow rings exposed seasons of dryness. Gouges in the bark along the outside were present in places where the tree had been sliced by antlers, claws, or the axe that eventually took it down.

Dark scars circling one of the layers of growth indicated a year of forest fire. The shadowed scar embedded in the growth ring was still present, but the tree had recovered and continued to produce growth rings in the years following the fire.

Another wider scar indicated damage from a beetle infestation. The tree must have healed eventually because, like with the scar from the fire, more growth rings filled the space between the scar and the bark on the outside.

The concentric circles on the tree at Yellowstone helps me understand the function of the predictable patterns and seasons in my life. They are places and times in which to measure growth.

Perhaps a disaster occurred during this last year leaving behind scars, or maybe an infestation of sin ate away at any growth I’d managed to produce in previous years. External forces may have left a few gouges here and there. Now my outer “skin” isn’t quite as thick in places as what it used to be.

Whatever the past months of my life may have looked like, the ongoing, unfinished process of growth gives me hope. With time, alternating between growth and rest, I recover. Seasons of refreshing provide easier times of growth while seasons of dryness may bring slower growth.

And yet, I’m always growing. The scars become a part of the larger story. The concentric rings that follow work together with the injured places to determine the direction of my life.

Advent is the season when we wait for Jesus to come. It reminds us that God revealed himself in the past through the prophets. In the present, we wait for Christ’s second coming in the future. Advent provides time for us to recognize that all is not well in our world. It gives answers to longings for restoration. During Advent, we move closer to the source of peace.

The concentric circles down through history display God’s work over time. The prophets, Jesus’ birth, our lives now, and Jesus’ second coming align as growth rings in a large, divine plan that continues to grow¬†to fulfillment in spite of sin, scarring disasters, and forces of evil at work in the world. God keeps his promises. And he’s coming again.

So this year, as I sing the same carols, bake the same cookies, and hang the same ornaments, I’m going to use Advent as a season to recognize the growth God has accomplished in my life. This will refresh all of my repetitive tasks with meaning. As Christmas approaches, I look forward to rejoicing in God’s faithful work. And then, as a new year of growth begins, I trust God to take the scars and abrasions yet to happen and somehow use them to direct me towards his purposes.