Saturday, December 4, 2010


This morning, I helped to plant the first fruit trees in a community orchard sponsored by Sustainable Springfield. Because I have a history of causing more harm than good when it comes to plants, I am crossing my fingers that these trees survive! It did not take very long, but I left with dirty hands and the anticipation of a Spring harvest.

I also left with the realization that there's something really important about putting bare hands into dirt. I realized how seldom I do it. I, like many of us learned from a young age to stay clean (particularly as a girl raised in the south), not to mess up, and to hide my messes at all cost. Somewhere in all of this avoidance of "dirt", I suppose I bought into the cliche that "cleanliness is next to godliness". I was reminded today that it is in the dirt that fruit trees take root, and that it's in the dirt of our lives that new life emerges.

This week's Old Testament Advent text from Isaiah declares that after all of the ravage of war and the estrangement from home, "A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots" (NRSV, Isaiah 11:1). In the face of an uncertain future, the Israelites were challenged to remain hopeful and to embrace their humility as opportunity. Their deliverance would not come from a mighty king, but would come from an unlikely source - - from "dirt".

As we turn to this week's gospel reading we also find some rather primitive beginnings. John the Baptist, the prophet announcing the coming Messiah, delivers his message from the wilderness. He was described as wearing clothing made from camel's hair and eating locusts. From this setting of dust and dirt, John announces the coming of the kingdom of God.

I can's help but ask - what's up with all of this dirt? Why is it that prophets speak of and speak from places of such scarcity? Is there something instrumental about the dirt in delivering visions of peace and hope? If this is so, then all of this time of avoiding the mess has been in vain. While I've been told that "cleanliness is next to godliness", it is quite the opposite. The prophets declared that from the scarcity of the earth a Savior would be born, and the God of Advent can be found in the scarcity of our lives. The God of Advent is waiting to be born in our scarcity, in our struggles, disappointments, failures, and scandals - - may we not only see the "dirt", but have the courage to anticipate what will sprout up as we wait in hope.

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