The Sunday Project
From These Stones
Second Sunday of Advent |
By Darby DeJarnette
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist, and faithfulness the girdle of his loins. The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall feed; their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, "Therefore I will praise thee among the Gentiles, and sing to thy name";
In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight." Now John wore a garment of camel's hair, and a leather girdle around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sad'ducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit that befits repentance, and do not presume to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. "I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the granary, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."
Today's Gospel reading is one of the most vivid in the New Testament. St. John the Baptist, with his wild preaching and clothing made of camel's hair, baptizes repentant sinners in the Jordan while chastising the Pharisees and Sadducees in attendance:
You brood of vipers!
Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?
Produce good fruit as evidence of your repentance.
It's not much of a leap to imagine what these holy men must have thought about John. Surely, they thought his words were dangerous because he was unkempt, overzealous, insane, an outcast— not level-headed and civilized, as they believed themselves to be. John continues:
God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees.
Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit
will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Sometimes we get so caught up in looking at the fruits of our own labors, or at the fruit of other trees, that we miss the fact that God can raise life up from these stones. Whether or not our plants are producing, the mystery of God is so powerful that it can raise truth and beauty and hope from a stone, which doesn't — and can't— create these things on its own.
We encounter many stones in our lives: parents or priests who have hardened their hearts towards us, parishioners who are unmoved by the breadth of God's creation and hierarchies which try to crush us with cruel and impenetrable ideologies.
Hard, unmoving, impenetrable; these are the qualities of a stone. John the Baptist urges us to trust that Christ will draw life out of them, that Jesus can break the toughest boulders in half with the growth of a fragile wild flower.
In Matthew 6:28-30, Jesus says: "Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?"
Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. The trick to breaking stones is not to obsess about the trees or the fruit, but to lean in to being the person that God created you to be. We can't hope to breathe life into the lifeless by trying to control God's work. We have to trust in the way God created us— as vessels containing all of God's lush and uncontrollable mystery— instead of viewing ourselves as carefully planted roses that need continual pruning or as vineyards that constantly need to be cut back.
The prophetic words of Isaiah in our first reading tie back to the promise of Jesus breaking in to the world in this way, like a wild flower: "On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom."
On this Second Sunday of Advent, we anticipate the day when we can be fully ourselves in God's vast and mystical creation. We trust and wait, allowing God to raise us up slowly from the dark earth, breaking through the stones and reaching up to the heavens like a wild flower turning towards the sunlight.