Twas the night before Christmas…
and all I could think about was the gift I had waiting for him under the tree.
It had been in my possession for months, and I’d almost cheated and given it to him on a couple of those occasions when, as a doting wife, my sentiments were especially high.
But we had somehow arrived at Christmas with the intended surprise still intact, and I was so glad that I’d mustered up the self-control to wait. Our own gift exchange was tentatively scheduled for midnight, after the kids were asleep and the Christmas morning preparations were completed, and as the time drew nearer, my antsiness grew, this long-awaited surprise bubbling up inside of me like the coffee in my percolator.
And when I say “long-awaited”, I really mean it. The story of this gift actually began the previous year, in the summer of 2016…
and, well, you know the drill around here. I’m going to need to tell you the whole story.
It’s what I DO.
(And you are so sweet about listening!)
So my husband is an expository preacher, and the choosing of a book to preach through is quite a big deal to him; once he begins expositing a new book, he’s more or less committed to finishing it so that our congregation can understand the entirety of the message as it was written, in context.
We’ve been through the Psalms together…almost all of them!…we’ve been through Habakkuk, we’ve been through John, we’ve been through 1st and 2nd Corinthians…
and after much prayer and discussion with our other pastor, he had settled on our next book, which just so happened to be one of his favorite books, the book of Hosea.
After the practicality of Corinthians, rife with applicable instruction for how to live and how to treat one another, the book of Hosea was quite a departure. Hosea is a heavy book. It’s a grave book. But he insisted from the get-go that it is one of the most beautiful books in the Bible, and our congregation soon found this to be true. As we labored through the pages of that ancient text, studying the story of the prophet Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Gomer, our understanding quickly grew of the gravity of our sin and the depravity that we would choose to live in were it not for the astounding grace of God.
For we all know it, don’t we? Without His keeping, “Gomer” we would most certainly be, not just prone to wander and leave the God we love, but prone to happily return to the filth and vomit from which we were rescued.
It’s sickening and sobering and sad.
then you get to the REALLY GOOD news.
After months and months and months of highlighting the despicable whoredom of the Israelites and the much-deserved consequences they were facing for their sin, we finally reached the beautiful and shocking climax of the book found in chapter 14, made all the more beautiful and shocking by all that time we’d spent walking through the gutter.
Rather than trying to explain this climax in my own words, I’m just going to pop over to my husband’s podcast, if you don’t mind, and type out the final words he shared with us from the pulpit that day:
“…And I love how (Hosea) ends.
‘I am like a evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit.’
Listen, if there’s a section in Hosea that you can memorize to know what Hosea is about, it would be Hosea 2:14-23.
But if there was a verse to remember what Hosea teaches us about God in Hosea, it would be this one — ‘I am like an evergreen cypress, from me comes your fruit.’
God has remained ever faithful, ever green, to a people who have been faithless over and over.
He has been evergreen to a people that have been never green.
And what does this evergreen provide?
‘From me comes your fruit.’
Israel fell when they forgot where their fruit came from…but not anymore. They will know that from God alone comes their fruit.
So look again at the picture of what God is going to do as he fulfills what he said in Hosea 2: Israel is going to sit in a wasteland, sit in a desert, and yet, in the midst of that wilderness there will stand one tree, and it will still be green.
Imagine how shocking that would be…how stark…to be in a desert and find a tree, and not just any tree, but to find, like, a pine tree!…to find a tree that is always green! It’s like something out of the Chronicles of Narnia here! And what is even more shocking isn’t that this tree is green so that it survives. What’s shocking is that it is a tree that is so flourishing in the midst of the desert that it doesn’t just survive…it provides. ‘I am a tree that is evergreen and a tree that can still give you fruit.’
God is not just an evergreen tree, he is an evergreen tree for us.
And again, I can’t help but see how this would point us to Christ.
Our life is like that of Hosea 13 and 14: The weight of our sin dragging us to death, the wrath of God looming over us. Our lives are JUST like that desert…hopeless…empty…and in the desert of this world, what hope would a bunch of sinners like us have?
But in the midst of our desert, we hear this whisper.
Return to me.
And when we lift up our eyes to that whisper, in the midst of our desert, we see there, on a hill shaped like a skull, such a tree.
A tree that will ever be green, a tree that is alive and that will give us life.
Yes!! Did you hear that, Gomers of the world? There is hope for you yet! There is hope for us.
Our church rejoiced that Sunday as we contemplated this incredible grace that would bring miraculous, undeserved LIFE to a people who had nothing but the shame they had heaped upon their own heads.
And our pastor…my husband…rejoiced alongside us.
He’d spent so many hours that year pouring over the words of Hosea, researching them, praying over them, and asking God to help him clearly exposite the text, and as he worked, that good news of the cypress tree rooted itself deeper into his heart than ever before; this beautiful portrait of God had reached him, and it had changed him, just like it was changing our church body.
In fact, it was all so very impactful that, somehow, both of us came to a rather surprising conclusion that day.
We needed a painting of this tree.
Which is sort of weird, right? I mean, we’ve heard a lot of touching sermons in our day, and never once have we both decided that we needed a painting of said sermon.
And yet that’s exactly what happened after this finale of Hosea.
“I’d like to have a painting done of that tree,” he mentioned out of the blue. “An evergreen tree that would be common to our area like the cypress tree was to those hearing Hosea’s message…”
“I’ve been thinking this exact same thing!” I gasped.
We looked at each other in a “curiouser and curiouser” sort of way, and then, probably because we live in a lively house where grown-up conversations are interrupted before they can even really get started, we didn’t speak of it again.
I didn’t forget it, though.
Occasionally, I would search through the seemingly endless annals of Etsy, looking for an artist or a graphic designer, even, who could bring this passage to life for us.
But it was a totally overwhelming quest. I didn’t even know where to start, really!
That’s perfectly okay, though, because I learned something important this year…
the God who creates artists (and we know He does that from the book of Exodus) is more than able to help you find the one you need.
Oh golly, I love Christmas surprises, don’t you? Thank you for reading today, and please come back tomorrow to hear the conclusion of this special story. Did we find an artist? Did we get a painting of that cypress tree? Will I show it to you??? Stay tuned…
(and until then, you can always find us at Facebook where I tell most of our stories!)