“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” . . . Isaiah 9:6
Over 2000 years ago, mankind was given a gift. It was a gift that has out lasted and out given any other gift ever known. During This Christmas season as we celebrate this joyous gift, we want to extend our warmest thoughts and prayers for you and those you love. And with that, here’s our little Christmas story we’d like to share with you this year.
For us, being in South Carolina for the past 10 months has brought about a new appreciation for trees. As you may know, the retreat ministry is aptly named “SonShine Oaks”. And when you visit you will know very quickly why this is the case. As you make the drive down Maybank Highway toward SonShine Oaks Retreat, and pretty much anywhere else down here in the “lowcountry” as it’s called, you will be virtually surrounded by trees. Tall towering trees, beautiful sprawling trees, flowering trees, tunnels of trees hanging gracefully over the roadway. And as a matter of fact, at times, one cannot see the forest for all the trees! Then, when you enter onto the retreat property, the dozens and dozens of stunning mighty live oaks with Spanish moss hanging in delicate wisp’s from nearly every branch instantly grasp at your attention.
It’s really beyond words trying to describe the wonder we’ve felt seeing all this. And you’d think that with 13 acres of trees here at SonShine Oaks, we’d have enough.
But no . . . baby trees arrived in the mail just a couple weeks ago. 24 of them!
They’re small short twigs with a wee bit of roots at the end that we obtained through the Arbor Day Society. 10 dogwood, 10 American redbud, and 4 crape myrtle. Yvonne and Sheryl went out and planted them in a row near the barn for cultivating into larger trees for relocation later to an appropriate place on the retreat. Maybe down the line, when they’re a little bigger, there will be a perfect spot where another tree would fit in just right . . .
And so, with this, as we decorated the retreat home this Christmas, our minds drifted again toward the tree. We’ve often read the Tale of the Three Trees to our children and grandchildren over the years and the book surfaced again as we unpacked the boxes transported carefully from Colorado to South Carolina nearly a year ago.
Aha, inspiration! We will get three Christmas trees this year! And we will contemplate the theme of the story portrayed in that book. So there we are – now we have 3 trees inside the house. And as many of you know, for years we’ve always had a lowly wooden manger with the baby Jesus laying in a swaddling cloth in the hay filled manger. This is something we’ve always placed in front of our tree to remind us of the real “Reason for the Season”. But now, we needed to add two more items to complete the story. A small fishing boat, and a wooden cross. We’ll create a visual display that will remind us of the story portrayed in the book!
Of course the familiar tale – with varying versions all over the world (and now told in Scott’s version) – is told of how three trees were growing up nearby to each other. The first tree (an olive tree) hoped to someday be carefully crafted into a beautiful treasure chest and hold treasures unspeakable. The next tree (an oak tree) dreamed that one day he would be built into a mighty ship and carry royal kings across the wide and rolling seas. The third tree (a fir tree) wanted so much just to grow so very tall right where he stood on top of the hill. He wanted to point people far and near to God.
And so, as the three trees grew, the first had hardly begun when it was cut down by a farmer who used its wood to build a crude manger – a feed trough to be used in a stinky stable! The first tree was saddened as his dreams of becoming a treasure chest were crushed.
A long while past and the second tree had grown fairly large but still not nearly big enough to be made into a royal ship. One day some woodsmen came along and cut it down. They took the boards they made to town where a carpenter built a small fishing boat. This tree, too, was disappointed that as such a small boat, he would never carry any great kings!
Meanwhile, up on top of the hill, the fir tree was indeed growing straight and tall and was so happy because he felt surely people would see him and look up to God. Suddenly a thunderstorm raged across the hill and a bolt of lightning hit the tree and splintered it into many pieces. The third tree lay broken in a heap at the bottom of the hill with no hope now to do what he had always dreamed.
However, as the story continues we find that we as God’s people too, like the trees, in spite of what our dreams may be, discover that God’s plans are always best for us!
You see, the first tree that was made into a little manger came to hold a child – a baby born in Bethlehem. Holding a treasure of eternal redemption that goes beyond any earthly riches! And so the first tree was grateful. And content in what God had planned.
As a simple fishing boat, the second tree knew that he would never come to carry any kings. And yet a group of fishermen on that small boat found themselves in the midst of a tumultuous storm one day. One of the men in the boat stood and spoke to the storm which immediately calmed to a still sea! The tree realized then that this man held more power than any earthly king could hope! And so the second tree also was grateful and content.
And as for the third tree? Well, some Roman soldiers one day came and gathered a few of the broken pieces of the once tall tree. They lashed them together into a rugged cross and used it to hang and crucify a man who had committed no crime. The Savior of all mankind! That man was the same babe who had laid in the lowly manger . . . he was the same man as the one who revealed the unsearchable power and greatness of God there on the stormy sea with his disciples. And now, he is that man whom God sent to this earth to pay for the crimes – the sins – of all who believe in that free gift! Unspeakable redemption! Life eternal for all who accept that gift. And so the third tree was grateful. And content.
So, as we celebrate Christmas this year, let us not forget the meaning and the reason why we celebrate and what this celebration means to us and to a lost and dying world. Let us not forget to share with those around us!
Merry Christmas from SonShine Oaks!