It is December, and the assignment is to “Look up — for signs of fruitfulness and new life.” But it is December! Fires have burned the hillsides; plants are dormant; animals are seeking shelter from the rain and cold. And yet — .
And yet, I am reminded of one of my favorite Bible verses, Galatians 5:22-23: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness (generosity), faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” .
And I am reminded of one of Pastor Kathy Cannon’s first themes for Sunday School: the children are “rooted in God, growing in Christ, and bearing fruit of the Spirit.” That metaphor carries great weight for me because it means the fruit is in actions, not merely in words or creeds. .
So I look for fruit of the Spirit. In the Christmas cards we have begun to receive, I see love and joy in the news my faraway friends and relatives share: weddings & births (leaps of faith); graduations & retirements (new chapters begun); even deaths (a return to God, celebration of a life well lived). .
Peace writ large may be more difficult, but inner peace comes from contentment and gratitude. As Oprah Winfrey says, “Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” .
Part of the experience of Advent is slowing down long enough to contemplate where you need God in your life and in the world. It takes time — patience — to prepare your heart for Jesus. Nature teaches patience in the time it takes food and flowers to grow, each in its season. Handicrafts — whether needlework, woodwork, cooking, gardening, or programming(!) require care and patience if the finished product is going to be worth the wait. A focus on merely shopping and spending leads to overwhelming pressure, anxiety and impatience, but a focus on Christ, the incarnate love of God, reminds us of his compassion for those who are left out, marginalized, or outcast from society. .
And that leads to kindness, giving a break to someone who (probably) doesn’t deserve it and who can’t pay you back: the driver who cut you off, or changed lanes without signaling. Maybe in the grocery line someone with a few items is in a bigger hurry than you are; or maybe someone needs a smile you can give. .
A woman in my neighborhood asked for gently used books for two young girls in a family she is adopting for the holidays. When I mentioned this to my granddaughters, they enthusiastically culled their collection of picture books and chapter books to help a stranger help others. They are learning how goodness and generosity work in the world. .
I see faithfulness in the parents who pick their children up every day after school, who hold them accountable for homework and chores even when it is unpleasant. I see the same reliability in the staff at my mother’s assisted living facility. These cheerful and patient young people care for all the residents, and I am grateful that I can depend on them. . Gentleness is a choice. It means responding softly to “turn away wrath,” rather than provocatively, to make a bad situation worse. It is, first, doing no harm. . Self-control is the bridle of the mouth. In Matthew 15:11 Jesus points out that what goes into the mouth does not defile a person so much as what comes out of it. This reinforces the gentleness virtue, for it is learned with patience through the practice of self-control. .
I started this essay in the winter, with barren hillsides and dormant plants, yet good news arrived from far away, and that got me started. The fruit of the Spirit is within us! We have life, and can have it abundantly!
. Nancy Price, a member of Westwood since 1980, taught English for 25 years at Cathedral High School near Dodger Stadium. Now retired, she and her husband Keith enjoy traveling and going to the theater.