Is 11:1-10 | Ps 72 | Rom 15:4-9 | Mt 3:1-12
A forester, when he was in school in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, recalls skiing one winter morning through a birch grove as the sun rose. The white birch bark glowed pink in the snow, reflecting the sunrise. Around him, trees had fallen and some had been chopped up for firewood. Yet each of the ancient trees had stump sprouts rising from its base, which is the nature of birch trees. In three years, young trees had grown fifteen feet. How so tall in such a short amount of time? They didn’t have to start from scratch; the saplings were fed by the root systems of the older trees.
Our Christian faith is like a stump sprout that rises from our Jewish roots. We share a common vision: that peace will reign, and justice will thrive. Isaiah envisions a king who will make creation flourish in solidarity. He tells us that a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse. [Which, by the way, is the reason Michelangelo includes a stump at right foot of his David in Florence: not only to help anchor the 17-foot figure’s shifting stance, but that from David’s line, Christ would come].
None of us start from scratch either. Our faith is rooted in the faith of those who have gone before us. Our faith is now supported by those who travel with us. Together we are rooted in God’s vision, a hope for a more glowing future.
At the same time, John the Baptist bursts in wielding an axe with rough words for the Pharisees—repent! Cut down every tree that does not bear good fruit! Yet he too sees a radiant vision: One who is coming after him who will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire!
We are rooted in God’s vision of what can be. We hope that our faith will bear fruit in those who arise from our roots. What do each of those roots look like—past, present, and future? The courage of Advent is faith in the future. We await Christmas, yes; but we await eternity, too! Earthly life will be cut down and pass away, yet we live on the brink of a blessed and infinite future. That mode of seeing can fill the way that we live our lives today.
In this season of preparation for the coming of Christ, as God sees into our hearts, what is the one thing that we could chop off or prune in order to bear stronger faith?
And then, like the pink, fiery glow in that birch forest, as people of Advent, we can move forward and live with the sunrise of a new day.