A poem for the third Sunday of Advent

Lessons: Zephaniah 3:14-20, Philippians 4:4-7, Luke 3:7-18

I’m a quiet person, and John the Baptist’s warning in Luke 3 is noisy. I wanted to reflect on this notion of winnowing, of throwing the unfruitful trees to the fire, but without all the yelling and accusation. Because after all, as we’re told at the close of this Gospel reading, the unquenchable fire that burns the chaff is good news.


by Kathryn Smith

In this valley, the sun
is always behind us, light
that can’t quite lift itself
above the fence of mountains.
Keep me here, O Lord, in the safety

of fog’s enclosure, where a solitary figure
crosses the field, pruning saw in hand.
The gray orchard has not
dreamed of spring, trees nestled
in dormancy, their sap

an unseen coursing beneath the bark.
This is the time for pruning.
The orchardist knows the saw’s perfect
angle, the importance
of a steady grip. He knows

what thrives, budswell, small signals
of bearing. A firm hand

makes the cleanest cut. Nothing fruitless
remains. Nothing’s left to break

under winter’s burden,
spent limbs bundled and burned
in the damp morning. Smoke rises,
indistinguishable from fog,
from breath. I pray for necessary
injuries, wounds that remind me,

with each knotted scar, to whom
I belong.


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