1 Advent: Happy New Year! We are the work of your hands…and the Tree Guys.

Last week my workplace had to take out 2 old and mostly dead trees due to some storm damage that left them pretty rickety and kind of teetering towards where people walk on our campus.

I know. Not very Laudato Si. Sorry Pope Francis.

But actually very Advent.

I bet you think I’m going to talk about pruning our lives and preparing the home of our hearts and getting rid of things that we don’t need, or are possibly dangerous to us or others – to make room for Jesus – in His Coming at Christmas – or His Second Coming?

Yeah…nope. Though theologically and spiritually correct – and all good ideas — that’s kind of an Advent Gimme I think. 5th grader answers. We can do better. We are never done getting to know God – and for that – we must become friends with the person of Jesus. And that – peeps – means relationships. And risk. And reach. And as the Gospel this weekend tells us – being watchful and alert.

So I’m not going to talk about the trees that had to come down – I’m going to talk about The Guys Who Came To Take The Trees Down.

I sat in my car in the parking lot and watched these Guys for about the last hour they were here (and yes, dear staff members, I worked lots of extra hours this week…so I wasn’t just ding-donging around in my car…), and this was the most amazing display of not just teamwork – but really interdependence – which looks a lot like authentic accompaniment and discipleship – that I’ve maybe ever seen.

So there were 4 Guys. I’m going to call them Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. And while they each did a separate job – I watched them work very hard and watch each other at the same time — and anticipate the next need someone would have and met it – without being asked. They just jumped in – never trampling the dignity of another Guy’s work – but helping that task/part of the work bear fruit and teach the next thing. Like a well-oiled machine. It was really extraordinary!

Guy #1 – Matthew – was clearly the leader or most senior of the Guys – but I didn’t figure that out because he was Mr. McBossypants – it was because of how he treated all the other Guys. And how all the other Guys responded to him. He was the Chainsaw Guy – up in the air and climbing around taking the trees down and then cutting them into smaller pieces. He was like an artist, observing his work and carefully walking around to cut from the best angle. He could have been an ice sculptor. He never stopped – he did his task and then put his chainsaw down and started moving trucks and chippers and whatever else closer to where they needed to be for everyone else. And then as everyone else was doing their tasks – he picked up his chainsaw again and ground down the stumps – working on the opposite tree from everyone else. When the others came and asked questions, he stopped what he was doing, answered them, or showed them, and then got right back to work. Modeling good work ethic – and those Guys all followed his quiet lead. Also of interest — Matthew was the smallest in stature of all 4 Guys. And he didn’t really say very much at all. Sometimes the leader isn’t the biggest or the loudest.

Guy #2 – Mark – & Guy #3 – Luke – were the heavy lifters. They helped with some of the big tree pieces coming down, and then they together started loading one of the trucks with big chunks of tree cut into manageable – but still very large pieces – by Guy #1/Matthew. They also never stopped moving. Mark got the main truck as close as possible, Luke climbed up on top and took the back truck bed door off to make things easier to lift in, and also disconnected some bars (no idea what there were) from the top of the pickup truck that were going to be too low to be able to pile/stack all the wood in. By this time there was a good sized pile of wood that had been cut up by Matthew and together they lifted them into the truck, and Luke jumped back in to stack the wood I the truck bed and make more room while Mark moved the truck closer to the growing pile of pieces. All the while both of them were paying attention to Matthew, who had moved on to the next tree and was cutting pieces not just landing anywhere – but in a pile so trucks and backs would have an easier time of continuing to remove them.

Guy #4 – John – was the cleanup Guy. He ran around with a leaf blower and moved all the debris out of the way of the other 3 Guys – all the branches, leaves, and sawdust (wooddust?) and was able to very skillfully aim it all to big piles. He had a lot of multitasking to do – he had to watch all the other Guys so he didn’t blow stuff in their direction, and also to make room for new piles as they worked around him. Guy #4/John also was paying close attention to Guy #1/Matthew as his chainsaw ran low on gasoline – he ran up right alongside him with a small can and filled up the reservoir. Later, Guy #2/Mark did the same thing for Guy #4/John as his leaf blower thingy got low on fuel. They all just moved in tandem, getting the many little jobs that comprised the big job – done – and done well!

And then the end was the best – if you’ve ever worked in a group or on a team before – you know sometimes the end is the tell-all about how things have gone. Sometimes things slow down, cell phones come out, people try not to make eye contact with others so they don’t have to clean up or take down/whatever. A lot of standing around and the like…

Not true here, peeps.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John closed up as strong as they started. The following things all happened quickly and at the same time:

Matthew put down his chainsaw and started taking pictures of the work. The he seemed to be showing John how to chainsaw the rest of the wood in sections on the ground so it would fall in the right direction. This happened earlier as well as things were coming down – John looked to be at some level of apprenticeship…and was being accompanied by Matthew.

Mark moved 2 trucks back to the lot and carefully put the bars and doors back on under the direction of Luke – who had taken them off – he very plainly was showing Mark what he had done so he could now put everything back.

Once Luke had shown Mark what to do to put things back together – he followed John around with a tarp – which he opened up on the ground to collect the piles of all the branches, twigs, and woodchips/dust. He dragged tarpfulls of stuff to the second truck – the one with the woodchipper and got rid of it, and as he dragged load after load away, John would move on to the next pile to get it ready for Luke to return.

They cleaned up even the parking lot.

They cleaned up even the areas of the campus they hadn’t been in.

And then – this was my favorite – John – with his leaf blower thingy – blew all the guys clean before they each got in a truck – and then Mark took the leaf blower thingy and blew off John.

John put the leaf blower thingy away, Mark picked up the orange cones, Luke checked all our directional signs in the area, and Matthew took one more look around, took a few more pictures, checked in with our staff member, arranged to come back for the last few pieces they couldn’t fit in the trucks, and then they all left.

Maybe I didn’t do this feat justice in writing – but I definitely found myself a little envious of their ability to work as a team – it really was extraordinary! It was sort of like the antithesis of all those vineyard workers from a few months ago. And these Guys were living out what I’d imagine the top shelf version of what Jesus hopes to find when he returns. And if that’s true — I think I definitely have some work to do. At work and in my family. In my own ability to be interdependent as well as to help accompany and encourage others to do the same.

Authentic discipleship means relationship. And I cannot have a relationship with Jesus without also being willing to be in authentic relationship with others. Even those I do not know. Even those I do not like. Even those I do not understand. Conversion always precedes anything else discipleship-related. Where do I need to be converted this season? What part of my life needs a change of heart? A tree taken out? Where must I be open and welcoming to a coworker in the vineyard who is awake and alert to what I can be accompanied through? And do I have enough humility to accept authentic accompaniment from someone else? And who might I be being asked to accompany?

Because really the Following Jesus Thing is to watch for needs. And when I see needs — I should meet them — without question or expectation of return. And sometimes I will run out of things by which to meet needs of others — and then I have to let others see and meet my needs. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. That’s really the life of a disciple of Jesus. We do what He did. Living humility and mercy.

This year the expression “woke” or “living awake” has been a staple catchphrase of some of my favorite millennials – but Jesus is really the originator of the term…right here in this gospel on the First Week of Advent. And so I am challenged:

How can I be more awake – more alert – to anticipating the needs of my family this season?

How can I be more awake – more alert – to anticipating the needs of my coworkers this season?

How can I be more awake – more alert – to anticipating the needs of the poor this season?

How can I be more awake – more alert – to anticipating the needs of my parish this season?

How can I be more awake – more alert – to anticipating my need for a relationship with Jesus this season? How is my prayer life? My giving? My other relationships?

All of these are teams I’m on. But how good of a teammate am I really?

I’m thankful for these 4 Guys – the Tree Guys – for teaching the gospel this week.

And maybe for Epiphany…#TheseTreeGuys hahahaha #SeeWhatIDidThere #YeahOkIllSeeMyselfOut

Maranatha – Come, Lord Jesus.

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