We who live in an area where large trees are plentiful are indeed fortunate. Trees provide shade from the heat of the Sun. They provide beauty for our lawns and yards and parks. Some trees provide us with fresh fruit, others even give us maple syrup. And trees also provide us with lumber when they are cut down. Sometimes when we cut down trees, we leave a stump in place with the tree roots still in the ground. And occasionally a sapling will grow from the stump and become a new tree.
Isaiah the great prophet of the Old Testament whose words speak so vividly of the coming of the messiah, uses the image of a tree stump in todayís first scripture reading. He tells us that just as a shoot can sprout from a tree stump, so our messiah and redeemer, Jesus Christ, will sprout from the family tree of Jesse his ancestor. Isaiah, like the other prophets of the Old Testament, was chosen by God to reveal to the Jewish people future events and so to keep them aware of Godís promises to them. He is writing hundreds of years before the time of Christ, but his words are truly prophetic. They reveal to his audience marvelous events that will happen far in the future.
Jesse was the father of the great king David, the first of the kings of Judah from whom all the succeeding Judean kings were descended. By the time of Christ, the kings of Judah were long gone. Judea was a Roman province. But Isaiah tells us that Jesus, as a direct descendant of Jesse and David, is a new branch of the same royal tree that produced the kings of Judah. This was very significant because throughout the Old Testament the Jewish people held the Judean kings in great esteem, and it meant a lot to them that the messiah would be a descendant of those kings. Isaiah goes on to say that the savior will be wise and powerful, and that the Gentiles will also seek to follow him.
When I read these words of the prophet, I feel a longing for and expectation of the coming of Christ that helps me prepare for Christmas. These words of Isaiah which we hear during the beginning of Advent, really do convey a sense of the waiting and longing of the Jewish people for the promised redeemer. In the gospel Jesus takes up the same theme when he congratulates the people of Jerusalem for being so fortunate as to see and talk with him, a great privilege that Isaiah and the kings of Judah longed for, but were not given.
Today we also celebrate the feast of St. Francis Xavier. There
is a painting of the saint on his deathbed. He is on a small island
off the coast of China. His friends have propped him up so that he
can see the coast of China in the distance. Xavierís face reflects
a great longing. He desperately wants to tell the Chinese about Christ.
But he also is very eager for his heavenly reward. I think that the
look of Xavier conveys the same kind of longing that the Jewish people
had as they awaited the messiah. The kind of longing that we should
have for the coming of Christ at Christmas.
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