It’s that time of year again – those few weeks, here in central Michigan, during which millions of leaves change color and fall to the ground. This could cause a number of reactions within you: anticipation of the winter months that lie ahead; excitement for the prospect of earning money by raking leaves; or simply amazement at the colorful beauty of the earth.
I have been struck by this beauty in the past week or two. Even on my short walk from home to the church, I can see many shades of red, yellow, orange, and purple – all signs of the changing seasons. Have you ever wondered about why leaves change color in the fall? It has been a while since I studied trees in elementary school, so I Googled the subject and found 38.7 million results. It’s a popular subject!
As you may remember, leaves are green because they contain chlorophyll, a pigment crucial to the process of photosynthesis. Chlorophyll helps plants create energy from sunlight; it absorbs light with wavelengths in the red and blue areas of the spectrum. But chlorophyll reflects green light, which is why living leaves look green.
The trouble is that chlorophyll constantly decays, so it must be constantly replaced by plants. All spring and summer long, chlorophyll helps plants store up energy so that they can survive the winter. But when the days grow shorter in the fall and sunlight becomes less readily available, plants stop producing chlorophyll. At that point, leaves begin to die, slowly lose their greenness, and change into colors that really have been there all along but were covered up by the green pigment.
If you are sensing that I might turn this into an analogy about our spiritual lives, you are figuring me out: there’s a sermon in everything! However, I don’t want to compare our lives as believers to the changing colors of leaves for two reasons:
- Spiritual life is not cyclical. While trees go through this process year in and year out, we are not guaranteed regular, recurring periods of “spiritual dryness.” There may be seasons in which we wander in the wilderness, but the light of God does not take a winter-long vacation from us.
- The sin nature is not always lurking, buried deep within us. If we think of “green” as “life in Christ” and “red/yellow/etc.” as “sinful living,” then we might reason that our sinfulness is always buried just beneath the surface; if the greenness ever fades away, our “true colors” will show. But this is not the case. Salvation is about the gift of a new identity; our sins, red as scarlet, have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb, making us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). We may turn from Christ and return to sin, but it is not as if sin were lurking inside us, waiting for the right opportunity to take over.
Take a minute to read John 15:1-17, in which Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches. One thing is for sure: leaves (branches) do not stand a chance of surviving if they are disconnected from the tree (vine). Let’s stay green (bear fruit); let’s remain connected to Christ and to each other. Let’s continue to find new ways to love each other during the changing seasons of our lives!