Evergreens and Everlasting Life
Among the many majestic and beautiful places Kathy and I visited over the last year, we agreed that Yellowstone National Park was the most spectacular. From its mountains to the canyons, from its winding rivers to the expansive grasslands, from its gushing geysers to the gurgling mud pots, it is glorious.
We visited the park on four different days—spending one day in each compass direction. (It’s a BIG park!) In addition to the amazing topography, the wildlife is also quite remarkable. Numerous times we were in traffic stopped by bison crossing the highway. Yes, they have the right-of-way in the park. You stop, and you wait. On one occasion, we were the first vehicle in line to have to stop. We got a ringside seat to a herd of bison, moseying across the road. One young calf even decided to have some lunch from momma standing in the middle of the road. We watched them all with wonder at the immensity of their size and rugged beauty.
However, every here and there in the park, we also saw evidence of a great devastation—the devastation of forest fire. Here and there, stretching for miles, were tall standing timbers with stubby, needle-less branches. In those places the pine forest floor was strewn with tress that had fallen—mostly lodge pole pine. Some of the park’s fire facts include 1,764 acres burned from wildfire starts in 2018. The most active fire was in 2016 with 70,285 acres in Yellowstone burned. In an average year, approximately 21 fires are ignited in Yellowstone by lightning. (See: Fire – Yellowstone National Park (U.S. National Park Service)) The devastation of any fire, anywhere is tragic. To see these majestic forests stripped of their green, with only slender naked sticks stretching for miles in the ash and dust of the earth is harsh.
We were privileged however, to see a most amazing aftermath. Note the two pictures below: The first depicts an area of a more recent fire (not certain of when). See the devastation of dead barren trees standing like monuments to an inferno. See the fallen lying on the forest floor. But notice something else. See the green beginning to rise beneath the standing sticks. You can see the beginning of re-forestation—evergreens growing where the fire had previously scorched everything. The second picture shows a similar forest area devastated by fire, but a forest where the return of the evergreens has had a longer time of growth.
How does life come about after such devastation? Did you know that certain pines have serotinous pine cones? These pine cones are covered with a resin that must be melted for the cone to open and the seeds released. When there is a forest fire, the cones open and the seeds are distributed by winds and gravity. (See: Fire Ecology – Virginia Tech) How amazing that devastation of a fire is a means by which Creator God re-seeds new pine forest growth.
These two fire-devastated forest pictures powerfully illustrate the Gospel message of regeneration and resurrection—of new creation, of life after death—of the words of Jesus who said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me, even if he dies, will live. Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25) And the words of the Apostle Paul who declared, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes...” (Romans 1:16) “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, and see, the new has come!”
(2 Corinthians 5:17)
Scripture clearly teaches the reality of sin and how it devastates and destroys. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Individually and communally, humans experience the ravages of sin in serious and in subtle ways, both within and without. Sin is devastating! It impacts everything of human life, heart, and mind, leading to behaviors within and without, which no moral human effort alone regardless of how creative or determined, can stop, relieve, or conquer. Sin steals life, love, and purpose from every person and aspect of civilization, relationships, governance, and yes, church.
BUT… there is a great Hope! God came right into this messy human reality in the gift of His Son, Jesus—Emmanuel—God with us! And yes, that glorious, silent night in Bethlehem, caused all heaven to sing for the joy of the Savior sent, Jesus Christ the Lord! And we sing and give gifts and celebrate with gusto God’s incredible incarnation. But please, in the midst of merry-making, remember the devastation for which God came to be Rescuer and Redeemer. Jesus came that we might have life and have it in abundance (John 10:10b).
Sin’s devastation, whatever its form, amount, or intensity does not have the last word. In Jesus the Christ, creation is made new. The old is finished and gone, perhaps not immediately or even in the manner you prefer. It may be a difficult and even harsh experience by which spiritual transformation occurs. Remember, fire causes the reseeding of a pine forest! But nevertheless, it is reseeded. Evergreens grow after fire’s devastation because the Creator determined it to be so. God also determined that Jesus lose none that God the Father gave Him (John 6:39). Nothing in all creation will be able to separate God’s own from His love that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39).
So this Christmas, hold the manger and the cross of Jesus together in your celebration. God came to us in Jesus the Christ and accomplished everlasting life over sin’s devastation for all who believe in Him. Glory to God in the highest!
“Hail the heav’n born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and Life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings,
Mild he lay his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
and the journey continues…