The following is an excerpt from my book, Journey of Hope, Readings for Advent.

Somewhere in the Inyo National Forest in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range is a tree that is considered the oldest living thing on earth. The tree is a bristlecone pine, named Methuselah, and has been aged at nearly 5,000 years old.

     Now wouldn’t you imagine that for any living thing to attain to nearly 5 millennia of life, it would be in a protected environment? That caretakers would make sure that it is in a perfectly controlled state of carefully monitored temperature, lighting, humidity, pruning, watering, and fertilization? Maybe you will be surprised to know that Methuselah has none of those things.  In fact, the only thing that is protected is its location. The U.S. Forest Service avoids revealing the tree’s exact location in order to protect it from vandalism.[1]

     Bristlecone pines are known as extremeophiles. They grow under harsh conditions- extreme temperature, gusty winds, poor soil. These are places where very little survives. But these trees thrive.  In fact, the forest service says that these trees actually thrive on adversity. 

     Methuselah was discovered, dated, and named by Edmund Schulman, who was an early dendrochronologist. This is a person who dates historic events by counting tree rings. Scientists have discovered amazing things about these trees. For example if water is too scarce, they can actually shut down a limb- basically sacrificing a single part of itself so the rest can continue growing. Another scientist took one of the pinecones produced by Methuselah and planted its seeds in a nursery and found that every single one germinated.  

     The people who have studied this tree have all remarked about the amazing lesson about adversity that we can learn through Methuselah’s resilience- that it is possible to not only survive adversity, but to grow from it.[2]

     When I first read about Methuselah, I couldn’t help but remember the Apostle Paul.  After Jesus saved him, Paul immediately started preaching.  He quickly found out that the Christian fellowship was afraid of him. After all, he had been so intent on putting an end to Christians by having them killed. And the Jews tried to kill him. This was the beginning of his life as an apostle, and although through Paul’s ministry many eventually came to be saved, it was certainly not an easy life for him.  Everywhere he went he met opposition. He was beaten, arrested, chained, hungry, lonely, and suffered from physical maladies. Despite all his suffering, he continued on preaching and encouraging and growing the church.  

     In 2 Corinthians 4, Paul wrote that it was because the mercy he had received from Christ was so real in his life that no matter what he went through in his ministry, he would not lose heart.  In verses 4-9, he writes:  “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

     What was it that kept Paul’s hope renewed?  What kept him from being crushed, despairing, forsaken, and destroyed?  The answer is in the following verses, where he describes how his suffering allows the suffering, death, and the resurrection of Jesus to be visibly displayed in his own life.  Paul found it an honor to suffer for the sake of Christ. 

     This thought can sometimes be hard to understand. What would make this intense suffering and hardship an honor?  In verse 6, we can get an idea of why.  Paul writes,

            “For God, Who said, ‘Light shall shine out of darkness,’ is the One Who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

     Paul had seen Jesus. He had a face-to-face encounter with the resurrected Christ. It’s likely that others serving with him had also known Jesus, perhaps had heard Him teach or even seen Him perform a miracle.  The Light of Jesus established deep within Paul’s heart a knowledge of the glory of God.  Don’t miss the key word in that verse- heart. This knowledge went beyond cognitive “head knowledge.” This was heart knowledge- an intimate understanding and knowing. 

     No suffering that Paul could ever experience could diminish the hope he had from knowing Jesus. 

     Today as we think about Advent, I want to challenge you to think about Jesus.  Take the time today to ask the Lord to renew your hope by shining the light of Jesus once more into your heart. But don’t stop there.  Who do you know who is struggling today? So many are facing the upcoming Christmas season alone for the first time since losing a loved one. Many are struggling with poverty and hunger in our communities. Find a way to share that light with someone else today. 

[1]  Westover, Robert Hudson, “Methuselah, a Bristlecone Pine, Is Thought to Be the Oldest Living Organism on Earth.”, Feb. 21, 2017

[2] Sherwood, Ben,  The Survivors Club. New York: Grand Central Publishing. 2009. Pages 287-291.

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