When I was 3 years old I watched my dad dig a hole for a new tree. After a morning of hard work, he peeled off his work gloves to go inside our house for some of Mom’s iced tea.
He left behind a hole that fueled a 3-year-old’s imagination.
The hole could be anything: a cave with buried treasure, a tunnel to some far away land, a place to hide out from my sisters. I really liked that idea! The peach tree, its roots destined for that hole, lay on its side, roots still bundled in burlap, with a hose nearby, ready to water it.
Well, I didn’t hesitate for a moment. I jumped right in. Then, of course, as my tennis shoes hit the bottom, I realized my mistake. I had significantly misjudged its depth and was in too deep for my hands to reach the top.
I could not, no matter how hard I tried, climb its walls, as tight as they were, pressing in on me. I tried to call for help, but no sound came out, none at all. This both surprised me and frightened me until the very act of breathing seemed a struggle.
That I am still here is a testament to my father’s willingness to look before he planted.
Sage advice, indeed! Those huge hands of his reached down and pulled me up. I was burbling and gasping for breath and trying to explain myself all at once, with tears rolling down, trying hard not to look at him but failing.
In his eyes, there was no laughter at all. There was no chiding. I even got to hold the hose as water filled the hole that became the home of our new peach tree.
“She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
“Jesus” means “God saves” so the name and the action became one in him.
I cannot count the holes that I have found myself in over the years. The results of the choices I have made, or others made or the twist of life in its peculiarity and serendipity: life pressing down and breaths coming in ragged gasps, control of life and the living of it seemingly wrenched out of my hands, facing the limits of all that I could bring to bear.
One such moment: watching our middle son, then a baby, struggling as the doctor sought to remove some bone marrow from the base of his spine to test for leukemia — his mother and I reduced to clutching, holding each other upright, our tears flowing with each wail and a woman from the hospital trained to accompany people like us through the test helping him when we could not help ourselves.
There is power in the name of Jesus — the power of salvation, name and action as one, our future of promise won through his action, his willingness to die so we might live. And that power has broken into this broken world. His strength is more powerful than our weakness.
A gift from God
His victory, our victory, coming as a gift. His name our hope: Jesus.
And the power of that name does not falter when we falter and bears no offense when we mean to offend and deeply. When we like the psalmist cry:
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”
The day at the child oncology unit at Hershey Medical Center left our faith numb for a time. We left with a prognosis of a virus running its course and soon to end, rather than cancer. We walked past other children in the infusion room playing games, watching movies, bags and tubes and needles all.
From the hole’s bottom we see but sky and cloud and wonder if the sun must be there shining, we in shadow, fearing every evil, uncertain of our next breath. And the answer comes in a name as it must, having sought us out: the lost, the broken.
A name with power.
His strength stronger than our weakness.
His victory, our victory, coming as a gift. His name our hope this Advent and always: Jesus.
Keith Spencer is the pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Pembroke Pines, Fla.