Oaks of Righteousness (Advent 3B)

My original plan for this blog included me doing visual artwork and I had planned on writing short stories and dramas with the lectionary. Neither of those have happened – mostly because of time. What has emerged instead are “image stories” or theological reflections on the images in the weekly Scripture passages.  Maybe you can make them visual.

Oaks of Righteousness for Advent 3, Year B, Isaiah 61: 1-4,8-11

Oaks begin simply by chance as pollen from a male flower drifts in the air or is carried by the wind to a female flower, which is pollinated. This chance encounter allows the acrid to from and then drop to the ground. These are scattered by squirrels, who bury their food in the ground. Forgotten or overlooked acorns left in favorable soil then send a tap root deep into the ground while poking a shoot above ground. The seedling grows 12-17 inches per year and becomes a sapling when it’s 39 inches tall and the trunk is 2-3 inches in diameter. It becomes a pole when the trunk exceeds 3 inches and its branches reach out 12 inches. But even more fascinating is that the roots of the oak are sometimes larger than the tree that we see.

In Isaiah 61, those of us who remain steadfast are called “oaks of righteousness” as we glorify God. Those of us who hear God’s call to social justice flinch just a little when we hear “glorify” because the image that comes to mind is people with their hands upraised praising God and waiting for the Holy Spirit.

Isaiah has to remind us to care for each other because so much time is spent in praise and not social justice. But the oak is about balance. The tree takes 20 years to mature and if the roots are too shallow or narrow, the tree will be easily blown over by the wind. It’s the roots that keep the oak steadfast.

I’m not going to say the roots are social justice or worship – it’s the part of our spiritual development that we ignore. We let it rot because people don’t see it, but it could mean our downfall if we fail to take care of them.

Our faith can be as chancy as the male pollen waiting to be carried by the wind to the female flower. God gives us little invitations that we may or may not hear throughout our lives. When we hear them, the Holy Spirit as the wind over the waters in Genesis 1, carries us to the flower and we become  a seed – the acorn – of faith.

When we fall to the ground, when we struggle early in our faith development, we need someone to take us a little farther on our faith journey. We need a squirrel to carry us to a community that we can be nurtured in. With luck, we’ll find the right kind of soil that encourages both spiritual development and social justice. Without luck, we’ll find ourselves somewhere that promotes praise all the time while ignoring our neighbors or neglects faith development with too much emphasis on mission.

In the right soil, we’ll slowly grow both deeper into the soil as we develop our roots, our foundation, and above ground as we reach upward to God and outward to our neighbors. It takes time for us to mature and then nurture others to become the oaks of future righteousness.

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