A Stump, A Child, An Advent
(Isaiah 11:1-10; Luke 10:21-24)
As I read these readings from the first week of Advent, I gave praise to God for our “Holy Mother Church”. In reflecting on that unusual title, Holy Mother, I realized that it is my Catholic roots which have given me the very construct for which I find myself thanking God. That is to say, “Mother Church” is a term familiar to the Catholic perspective, where the Church is seen as giving birth to its members, in contrast to the members giving birth to their church.
My Church, my Mother, my Source of Nourishment, my Guiding Hand, is a Womb transcending time and space, weaving me into the Body of Christ, with all the saints present and past. It is the miracle of Advent, that I find myself a living, integral piece of the Incarnation of God.
These thoughts were evoked as I was struck with the Church’s wisdom in pairing together the readings from Isaiah 11 and Luke 10. Isaiah’s prophecy of the stump of Jesse sprouting a shoot of New Life, is paired with Luke’s account of Jesus exulting, with the Joy of the Holy Spirit, that what was hidden from the learned, is now revealed to the Childlike. Read together, these verses shed light on each other in a manner where the sum of their parts is greater than their whole. Our Holy Mother Church, in the pairing of this Word, opens a window into the Mind of God.
Immediately preceding the stump of Jesse vision, Isaiah writes, “See, the Lord Yahweh Sabaoth hews down the boughs with a crash. The topmost heights are cut off, the proudest are brought down. The forest thickets fall beneath the axe. Lebanon and its splendours collapse.” All of us have found ourselves “brought down”, laid low. Not just pruned, but cut to the stump.
Being cut to the stump yields two possibilities: One is a sense of dejection, failure, despondence. Or, it can become an opportunity of enlightment …a chance to be humbled …to find new eyes …to understand that of ourselves we are but dead wood …that if we embrace our death, we will discover the Saving Power dwelling deep within our roots …that the Spirit of God is waiting, to burst forth with New Life …with New Life that could not take place until our Tree of Pride has been cut down …that the Hand that wielded the axe, is the same Spirit which is pushing up New Growth.
Luke sets his stage with the preceding account of how the seventy-two came back rejoicing because they saw Satan defeated whenever they called on the Name of Jesus. Through the Name of Jesus, death now yields New Life. But Jesus reminds his disciples, that the true cause of their joy, is their Childlike Faith …a faith which embeds them into the Lap of The Father, a Father that is ever faithful to his children.
Taken together, these two readings shed light on what Nicodemus found incomprehensible, that in being Born Again, we are indeed placed back into the Womb of the Holy Spirit, where we are reformed into a Child of God, freed to become what we were destined to be from the beginning.
And so we begin Advent with the promise of New Birth. Where the Holy Spirit overshadows Mary, our Mother Given, whose childlike “Yes”, conceived and gave birth to our Savior, Jesus the Christ. Out of the Root of Jesse he comes into the world, breathing his Holy Spirit upon us, giving birth to our Church that Pentecost Day, giving us a New Mother, ever birthing us with Word and Eucharist, with Water and Spirit, into New Life.
Come, Emmanuel. Come, Word Made Flesh. Come, Light of lights. Pierce our Darkness. Come, Savior of the world. We have been cut low, oh Lord. We surrender. We hope only in you. With eyes steeled on that Christmas Star, we wait …to be Born Again. Come Lord Jesus, come!