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The Giving Tree

Luke 3:7-18

The Rev. Jon Roberts

13 December

2009

Good Shepherd Episcopal Church

Venice, FL

1 He said therefore to the multitudes that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits that befit repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the multitudes asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” Tax collectors also came to be baptized, and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Collect no more than is appointed you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

As the people were in expectation, and all men questioned in their hearts concerning John, whether perhaps he were the Christ, John answered them all, “I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into his granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he preached good news to the people.

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The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, 1964

His roots are planted in the waters of baptism, and his branches spread forth into the high vaults of heaven.[1]

This is one way to illustrate our Lord Jesus. He is like a tree. His reach goes deep and wide. Most importantly he reaches for us to come to him. Therefore, our joy in advent rests on this branch. But like all good things there is a risk that our joy may be spent and our resting place cut off. It could get worse. We may look down and see there is an axe laid to the root. It all seems so sad until we realize it is our hands that were upon it.

Once there was a tree and she loved a little boy. Every day the boy would come and he would gather her leaves and make them into crowns and play king of the forest. He would climb up her trunk and swing from her branches and eat apples. They would play hide-and-go-seek. And when he was tired, he would sleep in her shade. The boy loved the tree... very much and the tree was happy. But time went by and the boy grew older. The tree was often alone. Then one day the boy came to the old tree and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and eat apples and play in my shade and be happy." "I am too big to climb and play," said the boy. "I want to buy things and have fun. I want some money. Can you give me some money?" "I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I have no money. I have only leaves and apples. Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in the city. Then you will have money and you will be happy." And so the boy climbed up the tree and gathered her apples and carried them away. And the tree was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time...and the tree was sad. Then one day the boy came back and the tree shook with joy and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk and swing from my branches and be happy." "I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy." I want a house to keep me warm," he said. "I want a wife and I want children, and so I need a house. Can you give me a house?" "I have no house," said the tree. "The forest is my house, but you may cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy." And so the boy cut off her branches and carried them away to build his house. And the tree was happy. But the boy stayed away for a long time. And when he came back, the tree was so happy she could hardly speak. "Come, Boy," she whispered, "come and play." "I am too old and sad to play," said the boy. "I want a boat that will take me far away from here. Can you give me a boat?" "Cut down my trunk and make a boat," said the tree. "Then you can sail away...and be happy." And so the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy...but not really.

After a long time the boy came back again. "I am sorry, Boy," said the tree, "but I have nothing left to give you- My apples are gone." "My teeth are too weak for apples," said the boy. "My branches are gone," said the tree. "You cannot swing on them-" "I am too old to swing on branches," said the boy. "My trunk is gone," said the tree." "You cannot climb-" "I am too tired to climb," said the boy. "I am sorry," sighed the tree. "I wish that I could give you something... but I have nothing left. I am just an old stump. I am sorry..." "I don't need very much now," said the boy, "just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired." "Well," said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could, "well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest." And the boy did. And the tree was happy.

This delightful children's book, called The Giving Tree, is a portrayal of a tree in the forest that gives all she has for the life of a boy.[2] There is a temporal joy as the tree loses its fruit, its branches and finally its trunk just so the boy could be happy. Its happiness was based on the boy's happiness. In the third chapter of the gospel according to Luke, we hear John the Baptizer speak about the axe laid to the root. He is speaking to three categories of people: In general, he is speaking to the multitude who are listening and waiting for the baptisms. Specifically, he is speaking to tax collectors and soldiers. They are sick of their job; how they treat others or how others treat them. Somewhere inside, they feel the call for a spiritual change.
Was the message of John the Baptist convicting them? Or was it calling them? It was a message of repentance.[3] John is calling them to lay down their axes. To stop taking more fruit from the tree that is needed. To stop cutting down all the branches or the root to make more houses or boats in order to be satisfied. The message of repentance is one that pleads our confession. We confess that all our thoughts, word and deeds away from God's will is vain and sinful. If our will is not in God's will we fall off our branch. We should never grow up where we visit the wood of the manger or the wood of the cross only in Christmas and in Easter. When we speak of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can say that he is the true Giving Tree because his life never runs out. He extends from the deep water of baptism to the high vaults of heaven. His life is not based on our happiness, but our happiness if based on his life. Therefore, come unto him, all who are weary and heavy laden and He shall give you rest. And you will be happy.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts, adaptation to Jeremiah 17:8
[2] Shel Silverstein, "The Giving Tree", Harper & Row: NY, 1964.
[3] Luke 3:7-18

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