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9 Dec 2007

“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” (Isa. 11:1)        In the name …
Jesse is the father of King David; David is the ancestor of the Messiah.  When Isaiah writes the prophecy we read today, the kingdom of David is in sharp decline and in a very short time will completely collapse.  There is nothing left but the stump of a once glorious tree.  But in the midst of this decay and rot, Isaiah the prophet foretells of a shoot that will emerge.  From the apparently dead stump of the tree, new life will come forth.  No matter how bleak things may appear, no matter how forlorn, with God there is always hope.  Hope is one of the unacknowledged necessities of life. 
You can send desperate people subsistence levels of food, water and shelter, but leave them like that long enough without hope and life looses its value.  It’s survival; it’s not living.  You can see the difference in the eyes of the ones who are suffering.  Or take the example of medical technology.  It continues to move forward, and rapidly.  Now scientists, for instance, have discovered a way to turn any cell into the equivalent of an embryonic stem cell, which is a cell that can turn into any kind of cell the body needs.  With these kinds of medical advances that can prolong life substantially, the medical profession has had to ask in earnest questions about quality-of-life issues.  Is it enough to just live longer, or do we need to live well as we live longer?  Hope is a necessity of life.  Take hope away, and is it worthwhile to just extend the time until death eventually wins its battle?
As another example, depression, hopelessness, can take the value out of life.  This past week Robert Hawkins, who was only 19 years old, killed seven people in a mall in Omaha, Nebraska.  The reason given for the rampage was clinical, psychological depression.  This is not just being sad; this is a mental disease.  It steals away every last remnant of hope in a person’s life.  Sometimes the ones who suffer will injure themselves.  In an even more horrible tragedy, however, Robert Hawkins committed suicide, but he also murdered without cause or reason seven innocent bystanders.  Teen suicide at large is the third leading cause of death among those who are 15 to 24 years old.  These kids, you would think, realize that they have their whole lives in front of them, but without any hope to hang onto these young people throw it all away.  And depression, hopelessness, has to be pretty widespread in society at large because I see drug-company advertisements for anti-depressant drugs on television.  For those companies to be casting a wide net with expensive television commercials there must be evidence of a substantial population among us that makes it worth their while.  Hope is a necessity of life, and those who suffer through clinical depression can testify to this fact.
With hope so important, and with hopelessness so prevalent, I think it is a wonderful, inspiring and healing image that Isaiah draws for us today of the young shoot the surprisingly emerges from the dead-looking stump of an old tree.  Hope is one of the promises that accompany the coming of the Messiah.  For those who feel misunderstood by others and even by themselves, the Messiah judges them not by appearance or by hearsay, says Isaiah.  That’s a powerful message for people who have been consistently misunderstood, and for one reason or another feel isolated, feel hopeless.  The Messiah knows who they are deep inside.  “The Spirit [of God] helps us in our weakness,” writes St. Paul, “For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” (Rom 8:26)  Even our own mental or emotional confusion can’t keep away the hope that the Messiah brings with Him.  When I pray with people who are unresponsive and who will remain that way, I ask Jesus to touch them in ways we can’t see or understand.  Maybe we can’t get through the fog of sickness and dementia, but maybe deep underneath it all, “with sighs too deep for words,” maybe Jesus, the Messiah, is still bringing the gift of hope to these people.  
I don’t know if you’ve ever read anything by Virginia Woolf, but she suffered terrible bouts of depression, hopelessness.  After she recuperated from these attacks of depression, that’s when she would find the energy and inspiration to write.  But in the darkest days of World War II, as the Nazis were marching from victory to victory, the big picture overwhelmed her.  She was able to recover from her personal wounds and become constructive again, but the world was too big for her to manage.  She loaded her coat pockets with stones, walked into a river and drowned herself.  For those who struggle to find hope, sometimes the insanity of our world can be too heavy a burden and it can leave us feeling hopeless.  For these there is still the Messiah.  He will stand up for the weak and the abused, says Isaiah.  He will enforce justice upon the powerful.  Wealth and connections won’t make a difference in His eyes.  Right will come to triumph.  As the Messiah says so reassuringly in Isaiah:  “They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain … The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid … and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” (11:9, 6, 7)  Some of the most beautiful Christmas cards I’ve ever seen depict this prophecy of Isaiah.  Even the turmoil of all the world will not be able to squelch the hope that comes with the Messiah.
That young, live shoot that springs from the stump of Jesse is Jesus.  He’s our hope, and hope is a necessity of life, and so therefore should be Jesus.  Jesus gives us the hope that can make a difference.  He’s the catalyst that lets us trust in the possible, the way things can be and should be.  Look at the difference His hope brings into the world at this time of the year.  The world doesn’t have to be mean and callous.  There can be generosity and good will.  We can hope in these things, and hope helps to make them possible, so for hope we pray today in Jesus’ name.  Amen.  (+)

Fr. Randy Calvo


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