Sunday of Advent
December 4, 2016
I have never seen a forest fire, except on TV news reports.
But I would say that they look fearsome. In recent years, there have been some very large fires in our country.
These forest fires can have several causes. They can be intentional or accidental.
An intentional fire can be lit by someone who may or may not realize the impact of what they are doing. An accidental fire can be caused by a campfire that is not fully extinguished.
Whether intentional or accidental, a forest fire can cause great destruction. There can be great loss of trees and of personal property and even of human life.
The Promise of Forest Fires
An amazing truth of nature is that there is promise and hope hidden within the very destruction caused by a forest fire.
New growth can and will happen. The timeline for new growth after a fire varies, but one thing is certain.
The ashes become a nutrient for new growth. Eventually, new shoots of life will sprout from the earth or even from the stumps of trees.
This is the image that Isaiah uses in our first reading. Isaiah compares the recent kings of Israel – the line of kings that began with Jesse, the father of King David – he compares them to the stump of a tree.
These recent kings have been so weak that they have brought devastation to the country, much like a forest fire. And yet, Isaiah says with beautiful alliteration, “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.”
Isaiah offers promise and hope. New life will eventually emerge here much as from a forest fire.
Our Forest Fires
Now we can also experience forest fires in our own personal lives.
In a sense, some of them are intentional – meaning that we bring them upon ourselves – and some are accidental – meaning that they just happen to us. Our intentional fires might result from speaking hurtful words to somebody, or from not applying ourselves to our school work, or from falling away from God.
Our accidental fires might come from the death of a loved one, or from being bullied in school or put down at work. All of these personal forest fires can also be destructive.
They can destroy relationships and leave us alone and lonely. They can destroy our immediate future and leave us feeling hopeless.
They can destroy any inner sense of God’s presence and leave us feeling lost. And they can destroy self-esteem and leave us feeling worthless.
The Promise of Our Forest Fires
But, as with the forest fires of nature, there is also promise and hope.
We can live in the hope of a shoot sprouting from a stump. This hope is a core message of Advent – the hope of regeneration, of new life springing from destruction.
Usually, we cannot leave this totally up to God. We must do our part too.
So we may need to own up to our own behavior and even connect with a counselor to assist us in changing our ways and rebuilding a relationship. We may need to work day by day to develop our potentials and build a future.
We may need to try the Sacrament of Reconciliation and allow our sense of oneness with God to be rekindled. And we may need to rediscover our own self-worth by being with persons who build up and not tear down.
So yes, hope is not passive. It demands that we do our part.
But we do this because we have the promise and hope extended by Isaiah and by Jesus. With this, our forest fires can give way to new life: “A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.”