Sunday, December 4, 2016

Of Sprouts and Stumps - Homily for the 2nd Sunday in Advent (A)

When I was coming back to the faith, one of the first papers I was ever assigned at Franciscan was to give a line-by-line explanation of the first reading. I had heard it before at Mass—or in Ghostbusters, Bill Murray, when describing events of “biblical proportions” talks about “dogs and cats… living together!”

But what did it mean?

It means this is the extent of the total re-creation that our Messiah, Jesus Christ, brings with him.

We heard about all kinds of animals: the lion, calf, leopard, ox, wolf, bear, child, and snake. What is this all about? It’s about the Garden of Eden. All of those animals once lived together in peace. Humanity used to live together with God in peace. But when sin entered in by man’s free choice, the order of creation was spoiled by chaos. Harmony was replaced with fighting and discord.

With the Messiah, creation will receive restoration. There will be a renewed order. There will be peace—even among the animals. For, the Messiah who comes to bring such renewal comes anointed with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit who was there at the beginning, “hovering over the waters” when the earth was a “formless wasteland.” The Messiah comes with the fire of the Holy Spirit to make all things new.

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For Isaiah’s audience (in c. 740 BC), this was great news. In Israel, king after corrupt king had operated not by the wisdom and power of the Holy Spirit, but by the spirit of the world. There was envy, the pursuit of worldly treasures, and a lack of faith. Israel longed for a king that would rule by the spirit of God. But at the moment it had none. This is why the tree of Jesse—the father of David the great king—is described as a stump. The tree of the kings was corrupt, rotten from the inside out, and it was to be cut down.

This actually came to pass in 732 BC when the northern kingdom of Israel is taken into exile. The line of kings was broken. A stump.

For 700 years thereafter, the people of Israel held on to this prophecy. That there would be a new springtime, a shoot that would come forth, a new king even from the stump.

But as the years passed, the prophecy seemed to be mere wishful thinking, foolishness. Cynics would scoff: the “calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them”—ha. When would that ever happen? Peace… there will never be peace…

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This weekend, many of our teens attended a retreat entitled “Behold, I make all things new.” I like the very next line: “Behold, I make all things new… do you not perceive it?

The new beginning that comes from the dead stump is a small—a very small—sprout. The new beginning is a humble beginning. Almost unable to be perceived. But the new beginning is there. Small like the baby in the crib at Bethlehem. Humble like the small host we receive at Mass. But the beginning, the Messiah, is indeed there.

This gives me pause. Because the re-creation of the world, the bringing together of all peoples and even creation itself, is taking place right here. “Do you not perceive it?”

Even this past week: our second graders were re-created by the Messiah and His Holy Spirit as they received the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time. All that was dead in them was cleared away. Space was made for the new sprout of life.

Throughout St. Charles county, people have been going to confession and having the old, rotten tree of sin cleared away and a new beginning of goodness re-created in them.

There is so much newness going on around us. Winter should blush—as the Messiah approaches and is indeed here, there is a new springtime. There is truly reason to hope!

*          *          *

“Behold, I make all things new… do you not perceive it?”

What gives you hope in your day-to-day life?

Our Messiah, Jesus Christ, comes with the fire of His Love and the re-creation of the Holy Spirit. The peace and the restoration of new life that we are looking for is not some distant dream. This same Jesus is here, coming to you right now. Ask Him to re-create you; to clear away the old, rotten roots of sin; to give you that new beginning; and to give you the faith and hope to see its small, humble beginnings—but beginnings nevertheless!

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