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Second Sunday of Advent

December 9, 2007

Blessed Sunday!

Readings:
Isaiah 11:1-10 (a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse)
Psalm 72: 1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 “Justice shall flourish in His time, and fullness of peace forever”
Romans 15: 4-9 (God’s patience & encouragement will help us live in harmony with each other)
+ Matthew 3: 1-12 (John the Baptist prepares the way)

“A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (Isaiah 11:1)

Jesse, the father of King David and grandfather of the great Solomon, had indeed been a great and fruitful tree. But how quickly was it cut down! Solomon’s idolatry with foreign wives cost Israel her unity, and when the kingdom divided things quickly went from bad to worse. It was only a matter of time before both kingdoms were conquered and carried off into exile. The land of Israel lay in ruins. Nothing was left of the mighty tree of Jesse but a stump.

But…

“For a tree there is hope, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again and that its tender shoots will not cease. Even though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the dust, yet at the first whiff of water it may flourish again and put forth branches like a young plant.” (Job 14:7-9)

As promised of old, this stump sprouted…and grew…and blossomed…and soon became heavy with fruit. And what fruit! The Messiah’s Kingdom is ripe with justice and faithfulness, peace and perfect security. Mortal enemies eat, rest and even play together in unbroken harmony. There is no harm or ruin in the entire Kingdom.

This prophetic vision was preserved for our encouragement, to strengthen our resolve and lengthen our patience when the stump seems drier than ever. “For a tree there is hope”, and a glorious hope at that.

But not all trees are so fruitful. John the Baptist, in calling us to prepare for the fulfillment of God’s promise, warns us that it’s not enough to make a show of repentance without also bearing its fruit. The ax is even now laid to the root of the tree. Our own dry stumps must sprout a change of heart if we would escape the calamity of being utterly cut off.

We cannot live in a peaceful kingdom unless we have ourselves learned the ways of peace. If there is to be “no harm or ruin”, then we ourselves must not cause harm and ruin. Easier said than done! It only took one sin to shatter the harmony of Eden. One sin would destroy the glory of Heaven. We must be completely purified, completely transformed into creatures who are “perfect as My heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48), as self-sacrificing as Jesus. Mere words won’t make that happen. A radical change is needed, and if it’s real, it will be noticeable. “Give some evidence that you mean to reform” (Matthew 3:8).

Jesus has come to make that change possible in our lives. “He it is who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fan is in His hand. He will clear the threshing floor and gather His grain in the barn, but the chaff He will burn in unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:11-12). Even if there’s still some chaff in our lives when we breathe our last, His cleansing fires of Purgatory can burn away the last traces of selfishness that would contaminate the fruitfulness of Heaven. One way or another, the chaff will burn so that good fruit may grow.
***
Since we’ve been talking so much about trees, let’s look for Jesus today in the Christmas tree. As we’ve already seen, green is the color of life, and evergreens represent the eternal life Jesus came to bring us. The shape of an evergreen is a triangle, which is symbolic of the Holy Trinity (three sides in one triangle represent three Persons in one God). An evergreen also points upward to God. Any tree can remind us of Christ, the shoot that sprouted from the stump of Jesse. In medieval morality plays, an evergreen was used to represent the Tree of Life from which Adam and Eve were barred because of their sin. By dying on a tree for us, Jesus opened the way for us to return to the Tree of Life.

May the Christmas tree give you hope for the eternal life of Heaven,

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