Greater Things Are Yet To Come: The Real Christmas Trees

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of His splendor.

"Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours...

"For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations."

Isaiah 61:1-3, 7, 11 (emphasis added)

These verses sprang out at me yesterday, the words practically lunging off the page - just as the Bible says it will, this truth sharper than swords. I was sitting in church. Someone else was reading the words aloud. But I found myself following along eagerly, my finger tracing the lines, my mind racing with the implications.

Here is where life is! Here is the fruit, the plant, the roots, the tree I have been longing to grow!

Our hearts thrill at powerful words, don't they? There's a song that leaves you quivering with excitement and singing along as loudly as you can. There's a rich, important person declaring action, not just dead words. There's a friend who lifts you up with her timely encouragement.

Words are power.

And here, in this Sixty-First chapter of Isaiah, we find such instigating words that Israel was given the encouragement to wait many, many years to see their Messiah become flesh, to see their dreams of redemption come true.

Doesn't it sound like a fairy-tale, almost? Good news that brings joy, healing that takes away our earthly problems, freedom from all our bondage to these tangible things around us, darkness banished, comfort and provision lavished upon us. And in place of these sticky strands, this web of despair that's been tangling us in confusion? We get to be trees of righteousness and praise. Glorious plants that have grown through the darkness and reached new heights in the light of His presence.

Have you ever seen a tree that sort of took your breath away? Maybe it was nearly taller than you could even see, it's trunk wider than your car - the redwood trees in California. Or perhaps it was just so graceful, so attuned to it's natural surroundings, that you wanted to imitate its growth. Or, if you're like me, you saw a rather knobby tree this weekend, its branches lined with warts - places where branches had been severed. And it was beautiful because it continued to grow; continued to make a way towards the light, even though others had cut off its previous attempts, even though rocks were standing tall all around it, blocking its way to the sun. The frame of this tree was all over the place, winding and curving in ways that made no sense at all.

But still it grew.
I have been praying all year that I would bear fruit in Christ. That I would be able to see myself as a tree - one of those pretty ones, covered in pink cherry blossoms or dotted with the golden fruit of peaches. And my mother gave me this quote to hold on to - a piece of driftwood to buoy me up from despair:
"It is said that in some places, the trees do not bear fruit, because there is no winter there." // Unknown //
I have been holding on to that, knowing that winters are about digging deep, finding rest, shifting perspective, going through hard things. But this Sunday I saw a new dimension to this tree metaphor. That maybe this winter-time is not merely for waiting, but also for hoping. For seeing things without my eyes. For noticing the promises that already exist.

The worship band was on fire as they played song after song, ones that I knew well, but somehow had overlooked the meanings before. I had glossed over the lyrics because I thought I already knew those truths.

"For greater things have yet to come,
And greater things are still to be done in this city..."
// God of This City //

And I wondered, standing there in church with Jesus-music blasting around me, Do I believe there are greater things yet to come? Do I believe that there is still more here, in this place, than I am seeing?

I thought of Mary, promised a baby even though she was an absolute virgin. Of the Israelites, promised for years that their Messiah would appear. Of Abraham, told he would be the father of many nations - despite the fact that he didn't have a single kid. So many people wondering, hoping, depending on a story that I'm sure they had doubts about. But Christ came. He showed up. Not late or behind schedule, but precisely on the day that He had set aside to fulfill these promises.

Greater things have yet to come. I had to know where this song was coming from. The Bible verse or story behind the faithful words. So I did what any normal 21st century American does and I googled it. Y'all, you need to read this. It's only a few paragraphs, I promise, but it is worth knowing where this song came from. Chris Tomlin didn't actually write it. But God used him to get this song, these words, out of Ireland and into American culture. Read this real quick or watch the 3-minute video if you like Irish accents *wink.*

I'll wait.

This is the part that spoke power to me:

"We need to understand that we have an authority, that we have an authority that comes from Christ, to see part of Christ from the dead lives in every single one of us. And that we actually need to have an attitude of going out and serving the world with just with love, and actually living out the great connection."

Did you hear that? You have the authority from Christ to love.

You don't have to wait to graduate college or get your PHD. You don't have to be friends with the mayor or have met the President. You don't have to be bilingual or important or rich or famous or strong or perfect or model-gorgeous or prodigy-talented or even the top dog in your group of friends. 

You just have to speak. To love. To allow all that God is pouring in to you to be poured out on other right in front of you.

He has released you from all your bondage (death, darkness, sin) through His death. He showed His deep and sacrificial love to you then - and He is continuing to show it to you now, each day, in a million nuanced ways. If only we will take notice. Soak up His words like sun on our leaves. Drink up His gifts like water in our roots. And grow outward with the authority to love, and give, and serve the fruit that is only just beginning to grow on our limbs.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of His splendor.

You are a tree. Maybe not one that can be seen with eyes of men. And perhaps your fruit has never brought you attention or affirmation or applause. But your tree exists, and it is growing. Your fruit, small as it may be, is an offering of praise to Him. We are the real Christmas trees, planted by His love and cultivated by Christ Himself. How do I know this?

Because of His promises. Because we are all hoping for greater things yet to come. Because we are not merely waiting patiently on the Lord; we are also declaring that He is God now and forevermore. Eternity is today. There is sacred in the ordinary, magic in the mundane. "Jesus didn't just die for our sins; He died for our every day." // That one is courtesy of my husband, wisdom hidden in one of his simple prayers... //

5 comments:

  1. Such an excellent reminder. I love how God's word can speak to us so clearly like that. And what beautiful trees- the whole earth really does declare His glory, huh?

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    1. It really does. We can't escape His beauty!

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  2. I love what you said about just speaking, loving, how the things of the world that most people think are the important things aren't really the important things.

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    1. Yep, it starts right here, in the little daily things :)

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  3. I so needed this today... Greater things have yet to come. SO much truth and beautifully written!

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