This thoughtful, reflective Advent piece comes from Dana Streufert.
Once where the tall trees stood barren, and where some trees stood colorful still, I walked along a path trodden by many. Many before me had come to that path; I’d been there a few times in different years too. Those trees symbolized for me many moments in life where colors filled my days, and then others stood as stark reminders of times laid bare by the cold.
This time, as has happened before, I walked along that path with my older, wiser sister. The two of us in different places now, but still sharing experiences as we often once shared more. It was an overcast day, but full with the last days of fall in the Tennessee Valley. The light danced on the side of the ridge we trekked; shining behind and before us, but rarely directly upon us. We seemed to be chasing it—or perhaps wished we had—but basked in its warmth when it came; resting on us peacefully and gracefully as it does. Through shadows and sunlight, with their timing unknown, we hiked on.
Moving along with steady anticipation has been the theme of our days as we’ve grown, the two of us having lived through many a trying one. During our hike, I couldn’t help but blabber on about the trying times we’ve shared or the ones we’d had to endure alone in newer years. Growing up continues to take us places we want to go, but also separates us from times and places we want more of still. When time spent with her is few and far between, times like these fuel my mouth to ramble on as my sister kindly entertains it.
On this particular day, I kept bringing up this concept of faith we hardly try to articulate. It seems our faith in an unseen God has little relation to anything else in life. The presumed disconnect of our faith in God to all we do and see can sporadically cause us to doubt or at least be unwilling to hold firmly to it. Yet as we have these doubts in our barren days, we will still hold fast to the belief that we’re dancing around the sun as we hike, even though we only feel our feet moving beneath us. At some point in life, we accepted that those before us got things right and that the truths from textbooks were enough. By faith, we came to believe we’re spinning and we never really questioned it again.
We may, in our moments of candid honesty, not even really know why we believe certain things. We just do. We’ve realized, whether by our own limitations, laziness, or some small proof of evidence that we can, in faith, accept what we could never concretely prove. I quickly realized that most days believing in a loving God is an easy acceptance for me, in part because of the faithful upbringing I received from my family and surrounding community. However, it may not be so easy for me to articulate my belief, or my commitment to it, when barren trees mark my path or when I see the barrenness marking others’.
My ramblings went on as I mentioned to my sister how the lack of physical evidence for God is why scientists want to disprove Him, simply because He can’t be seen. Of course, she knows this, but these are the words we shared back and forth in those woods, as evidence of all that helps explain God—in its quiet nature—surrounded us. Her simple answer to my monologue of thoughts was this: “Observe the shadows. (At least it’s a good place to start, anyway). We can figure out the relationship between the earth and the sun by the effects around us.”
As simple as her statement was, it felt like a profound discovery. We believe in a God not seen or sometimes not even personally felt and yet are witnesses to the effects of that same God who upholds this world. We put our faith in a Creator we will never fully comprehend or scientifically prove, but who leaves evidence behind and before us of Himself. Even cooler than the rotation of the earth (in all its rotund beauty), the movement of the Spirit and the traces of God’s significance are within and outside of much more than the evidence of shadows against light.
It is a daring, often unfaithful journey, but gracious arrival we find in casting our belief onto a God who is gloriously and perfectly loving us, and this world. It is this walk, full of the effects of a giving God toward a people prone to wander in their sin, where we are met by an unlikely gift, wrapped in swaddling clothes; the Christ child, Jesus. It is the daily forging ahead through shadows and sun, among the evidence of those before us and of what we leave behind that the seemingly unknown is forever known and trusted. It is our daily work, or the pleasant wooded walks or weathering trials where we see God and make Him known. We are brought into the effects, into the evidence, and entrusted to care for it well.
It is an arrival and a discovery all at once in the ways we awake and embrace each day, and so onward we have learned to go. We journey on, and we do so with much needed faith.
For my sister, and for me, His goodness within this walk in faith is the means to a magnificent joy that has shaped us most. Though oft unwilling, at times unsure, and frankly not always pleased with the path laid before us, He’s shown us by the effects that going where He leads is the most humbling and fantastic of trails.
And yet, like the familiar and yet unassuming greatness of Tennessee’s humble trees in fall, the manger scene—where we start again this season—calls us in and through. As we arrive and again discover the majesty of where this path leads us, we will go again where we have often trodden to further embark where faith leads us onward still.
As we tromp through the rooted ground of the forests or step over the streams encumbering our path, we will remember another place and a scene in a story long ago told. We will, as I know my sister and I have learned, remember to rest in the Truth made known to us through the Son of Man made perfect.
It is a joyous time we see before us and come back around to this season yet again. Our arrival to this place and night in Bethlehem, and more importantly His, connect the years we believe to have happened but are now beyond. It is again a discovery and monumental arrival of our King who brings peace, making every treacherous step to His presence in this trying world worth enduring. It makes faith in the birth of this baby boy who lived and walked the path to his death for us, and then into resurrection that brings us life worth more than any gold — and more precious than any life we’ve deemed more valuable than the one He’s been calling us to, each day in this time now.
His Light has come down, and so we shall, in all our human longing, Rejoice—for Christ is near to us this day, and forevermore.