The lighted Christmas tree is thought to have originated much before the birth of Jesus. The pagans who lived in the forests of Germany observed that the light of the sun began to return each year after December 21 or 22. They celebrated the return of the sun’s light and warmth by feasting and dancing around bonfires. Our family honored this connection with our pagan ancestors when we bought a six foot artificial evergreen, erected it in the parlor and attached tiny electric lights. It was a family moment.
Martin Luther may have originated the practice of placing candles on a tree. The story is that Luther walked home through the forest one night, composing a sermon as he walked. He was drawn by the beauty of the stars that shone through the spruce branches. He cut a spruce tree, took it home and put candles in its branches to help his wife imagine the beauty of the stars shining through the tree branches on his walk home.
I told my family a few days before the first snow arrived in Goshen that I was ready for Spring, and they laughed at me. I assured them that I knew that Winter must come first, but that I was indeed ready for Spring to come. You may laugh too, but I live in hope of spring due to the seasonal experience of eighty seven years, even in Florida.
Rhoda, Rachel and I arrived in Florida on February 4, 1950. The Florida Spring months were so warm that we eased unnoticed into the warmth of Florida’s Summer months. The Fall months in Florida were so comfortable that we paid no attention to the nearness of December and ignored the wood stoves stored in the garage of the parsonage.
Since Mennonite pastors did not have radios at that time, we were not forewarned. At midnight on the first Saturday of December, 1950, a cold wave swept down over Florida and we were not prepared. We learned that a frost in Tampa could effect church attendance as severely as a blizzard in the North. That Sunday morning a small group of the faithful sang, read the Bible, and the pastor preached a sermon in the warmth of the fireplace in the parson’s living room.
Live an entire year or two in Florida and you, too, will learn the consistency of subtropical seasons. So, every Fall in Florida there is a reasonable hope for the return of Spring when the winter “snowbirds” flee north, and traffic and life returns to normal.
Frederick Buechner in “Longing for Home,” devoted a short chapter to “Hope.” He urged preachers who choose to preach on hope, to preach of the life experiences that give them hope. Among the things they are likely to hope for is that their sermons will be heeded, that the messages of the old songs they sing will prove true, that what they claim about the god whose existence they cannot prove, yet in whom they hope, will be believed. They hope that what they preach about Jesus is true. Buechner ends his book with a chapter titled, “Jesus.”
I have not finished reading “Addiction and Grace“, but I have skipped ahead, and know that the Gerald Mays argues that hope is the child of grace, and that grace through hope detaches from addiction.
This theme caused me to return to “Surprised by Hope,” by N. T. Wright and skip ahead to the surprise that the Bible does not teach that we go to heaven when we die, but that according to the Bible Jesus will in the end bring heaven to earth.
N. T. Wright translates Paul in Romans 8:24, 25: “We are saved, you see, in hope. But hope isn’t hope if you can see it! Who hopes for what they can see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it eagerly but also patiently.”
So I will keep dabbling in these books in search of hope, for I have learned from my four months on fire lookouts, that long after life on the tower was over, I saw smoke on the distant horizon though no one else saw it. Yes, I will find what I look for and I am indeed ready for Spring to come to Goshen.