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“A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse.” 

That’s the image we are given in today’s readings, this idea of even when it seems hopeless, when there is no more hope of this tree growing. It’s been cut off. All of a sudden, a shoot shall sprout.

There’s a classic story of the Giving Tree which came about in my earlier, younger years. But I’ll just kind of remind you of what the story is about. The giving tree is about this tree and a boy and the author says, there’s a lot of people that read different things into it, and he really says that’s all there is to it; it’s about a tree and a boy.

So, there’s this giving tree, and it’s a beautiful tree and the boy goes out into his backyard every day and he just loved to play in the tree. He loved to climb up the tree and swing in the branches and eat the apples and sit in the shade. And he just delights in being there with the tree. Well, it turns out that the tree delights in the boy; every time the boy comes to play with the tree, the tree is just so happy. 

Well, we know that the young boy grows up at some point and he starts to not come to tree as often. He goes out into the world with his friends and he becomes a teenager and he realizes as he turns toward that time of adulthood that he needs money. He hasn’t learned yet that money doesn’t grow on trees, but he goes back to the tree and he says, “Tree, I need some money so I can do some fun things in my life.” And the tree says, “Well, I have no money but maybe I can give you my apples and you can go into the market and sell the apples. So, the boy climbs up the tree and takes the apples and goes into the market and sells the apples, but he doesn’t come back. The boy grows older and older and finally he finds a young girl and they decide to get married and have a family. And he thinks, ‘it would be really nice if I had a house; betcha if I go back to that tree, I can get some wood.’ And so, he goes back to the giving tree and he says to the tree, “Tree, I need to build a house. Can you give me any wood?” And the tree says, “Well, I still have my branches, so how about if I give you all my branches and you can build a house.”

So, the boy cuts down all the branches of the tree and before you know it’s just this big cylinder. And he takes everything and he builds a house with all the branches, and he had this happy house and this happy wife and this perfect life, but all of a sudden it doesn’t turn out so well. And so, he comes back to the tree and he says to the tree, “I think what I need is a boat. If I can just have a boat and sail as far away from here as I can, then, I’ll be happy.” And so, the tree says, “All I have is my base.” Would you like this for your boat.” And the boy says, “Of course.” So, he cuts the tree down all the way to the stump, and he makes a boat and he goes off sailing and he never returns.

Finally, the boy, who is now a very elderly man, has lost everything and he comes back to the tree and there is only the stump there. And he says to the tree, “Hey tree. I just wanted to see if there’s anything else that you can give me. And the tree, which is a stump, says to the boy, “I have nothing else to give. I’ve given you everything that I have and all I am is a stump.” And the boy says, “I don’t really need much, maybe just a place to sit.” And the tree says, “Well, you can sit on me.” And so, the boy, now the older man, sits on the tree stump and this is how the book ends. It ends with just one word, The boy sat and the tree was happy. The tree was happy. It doesn’t say whether the boy was happy. And as a matter of fact, the illustrations in the story show the stump and this old man sitting on the tree stump and he doesn’t look very happy. But the stump is happy because he continues to give and to give and to give.

In this season of Advent, we hear about this stump that makes up what we know of the Jesse tree, so from this stump shall sprout and it will become this new life, this new Jesse tree. And from that tree, from that lineage that seemed like it was over, that it totally turned their back on God, Jesus, or God, raised up this new shoot from Jesse that would lead all the way until Jesus.

So, I just want to use that image for us in this season of Advent, that we come to God and God gives us His very self, His very body and blood. He gives Himself to us. They think it’s good to just ponder on that and to think, ‘how many times do we come to God and just like, wanna take. God, give me this, God, give me this, give me this.’ And do we really return to Him with gratitude? That’s what the Eucharist means: Thanksgiving. We come here to thank God for everything that He gives to us. 

I think in some ways, too, we’re like the stump, we’re kind of dead inside. And the season of Advent is a time to experience new growth, to have that shoot sprout from us, from our dead stump, and have God show us that new life. So, the author, Shel Silverstein, he was known for not being very optimistic, so he didn’t believe in happy endings. All of his stories kind of ended like this old man who looked angry sitting on a tree stump. The end. 

Our faith is a faith of happy endings, because Jesus has conquered sin. And so, we can rejoice in that as we come in this season of Advent, the season of hoping and longing, that if there is any part of us that is dead, that if there is any part of us that is neglected coming to God and just being, enjoying and being in God’s glory and in his shade. If there’s any part of us that has come to that point all of a sudden this Advent, there could be a new little spruce that comes out of us. 

Advent is a time for conversion. So, we have the sacrament of confession every Saturday before mass on Saturday. If you haven’t been to confession in over a year, I just encourage you to let this be your time to come to confession, to confess your sins, and to begin to heal from any sin in our lives. It’s also about bringing new life and new growth into us. And I just invite you to wonder, to ponder, to hope, to look for how is God bringing new life out of us, who seem dead?

Because a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse. God will bring new life to those of us who are in darkness. Let us not take advantage of that. Let us not taking neglect this wonderful God that we have, but let us come to him, grateful, loving, and wanting to give back to him as he gives so freely to us.