Anders: The Tree of Life
Guest Writer: Isabel Anders
“The tree of life, in God’s plan, is more than a figure of speech. It is a description of the physical branching out of families, one way through which God’s Word and his ways may be passed on. In this context, parenthood is both the most natural of callings and the most humbling privilege. It is important to remember how much God cares about physical life. For all my abstract thinking about images and ideas, my greatest task at the moment is to eat and drink properly to become a fit branch for the flowering of a new life. “It is not the spiritual which is first but the physical, and then the spiritual,” Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 15:46. Isabel Anders, Awaiting the Child (Cowley, 1987, 2005).
As the foreshadowing of Jesus’ conception began with the first woman, and the promise was brought to fruition in Mary, so that tree, built through generations, out of the root of Jesse, is truly a Tree of Life, nurtured in the most human manner. Earthly lives and deaths are its tenuous branches, faithfulness and weakness are woven into its life, and God calls blessed those who choose to “abide” in him in order to bear the necessary fruit.
Human life, it seems, is never irrelevant to God’s plan. Instead, we are in the thick of it. We can enter into this design, this story, by accepting the joys and pains of our humanity and submitting them to the good of the kingdom. We can rejoice that participation in its growth is allowed, and cooperate by choosing those things that build and sustain life for our families, our communities, our world. As Moses urged his people Israel in the crucial early stages of the tree’s growth: “Therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live” (Deut. 30: 19).
The tree has been a symbol of life from the very beginning. But we cannot forget that in the sweep of the continuing story, life and death converged on a tree—the cross of wood that both took Christ’s earthly life and won our redemption into ongoing life. As the seed for the tree begins as a very small entity, yet carries in it all the potential for the flowering of the whole tree, so Advent carries in it the seed of the whole drama of our salvation. The planting, the watering, the tending can be conscious acts in our lives, as we wait for God to give the increase, to bring about his purposes in the world and in our lives—in this place, in this hour.
Isabel Anders, Awaiting the Child: An Advent Journal (Cowley, 1987, 2005). Managing Editor, Synthesis Publications, Synthesispub.com