In 1832 a small vessel, the Messenger of Peace, anchored off Manu’a, an island in the South Pacific. Aboard was John Williams, a British evangelist whose mission was to share the gospel with local islanders, many of whom had little contact with passing ships. As Williams’s ship neared shore, several canoes rowed out to meet it.
The early followers of Jesus knew about hard times. They knew about fear and uncertainty, hunger and want. They knew what it was like to be isolated from friends and family and neighbors – whether because of their message, or because they were in prison or because they were far from home. They also knew what it’s like to wonder what new trouble or trial the next day may bring.
This weekend marks the first Sunday of Advent, a spiritual season of preparation for Christmas. About this time, I usually thumb through my collection of holiday books to select a liturgical guide to read with my family each week to remind us that Christmas is about more than the gifts we’ll find under the tree.
What compelled me to take my mother’s mystery houseplant, I don’t recall. Its smooth, reed-like fronds grew outward from a single, papery stalk in the shape of a fan. My mother kept it in a plastic pot – the kind in which you might bring home a tomato plant from a nursery. Nothing showy. And the plant wasn’t either. “Give it a little water once a week,” Mom said, forgetting what it was called. “It blooms once every year or so, but if you’re patient, the flowers are spectacular.”
I was feeling unusually down this week, more than even dreary skies and freezing drizzle could account for. Tuesday, I didn’t want to go out. But needing to do errands, I zipped my rain jacket, buckled my kids in the van, and drove to Bath anyway.
“What’s the date?” I asked my 15-year-old daughter, Lydia, pulling up to the bank.
“April 17th,” she said.
“Oh.” I sighed. Suddenly my heavy mood made sense. “Ruth’s birthday.”