Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Rivers and trees. The Bible begins and ends with rivers and trees: Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22. Why is this striking fact not more well known among followers of Christ? What might this latter text teach us about hope in Advent 2014?
In this mind-bending vision of God’s good future (Revelation 21:1 to 22:7) John the Seer speaks about the river of the water of life, cascading from the throne of God and the Lamb, right smack-dab through the middle of a heaven-on-earth city. Rekindling the vision of Ezekiel 47, John reminds us that wherever this sacred river flows, every living creature flourishes. On either side of the river is the tree of life, with 12 kinds of fruit, one for each month, sustenance all year long. No more hunger or famine. No more worry about if or when you will get the next meal. And the leaves of this magnificent tree are for the healing of the nations — the soothing, restorative reconciliation of all ethnic groups and peoples. In short, the leaves of this tree foster God’s good future of shalom — the flourishing of all things.
Can we even begin to imagine what this would be like? No more trees felled to make battering rams to lay siege to medieval cities. No more trees cut to make sailing masts for colonial slave ships. No more trees pulped to make paper propaganda to fuel the fires of ethnic cleansing and human hate. In contrast, this tree brings healing and wholeness to all peoples. Medicinal uses of biochemical compounds extracted from leaves or bark. Beautiful wood used to make melodious guitars and sturdy garden hoes and swift canoes. A generous canopy that provides us shade and offers homes to warblers and bromeliads and tree frogs.
And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Advent is a time of hope. And an integral aspect of hope is imagining a good future. May this obscure but powerful text infuse our imaginations with an earthy and earthly vision of all things as God intends them be.
Prayer: God of restoration and renewal, give us a glimpse of your great good future of shalom, so that we might be people of hope who live as if that future is present here and now.
Steven Bouma-Prediger is a professor at Hope College in Holland, Mich. He reflects in more depth on this topic in his book For the Beauty of the Earth.
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