Our Advent journey begins with a meditation on a stump. Hopefully you’ve seen a stump before – hopefully, even if it was long ago when you were still little – you took time to study the stump. Maybe you counted the rings that represented the years of life that tree had. Perhaps you tried to pull it out of the ground only to discover how securely the roots hold it in place. I hope that you might have seen at least once – certainly not on every stump – but at least occasionally a small new branch starting from the stump. A stump seems pretty dead, and it certainly won’t ever look like the splendid tree that once grew in its place. The new little branch that occasionally sprouts from a stump, however, is a sign of the amazing power of life that is mysteriously present in the roots.
As the liturgical year closes and we open the beginning of something new with Advent, the call to conversion becomes more imperative. Yes, there is a sense of dread when we think of the end of the world, the end of time, the second coming of Christ. There is a sense of dread when we look at our lives and how little we’ve done to respond to God’s grace and His call upon our lives. The first reading points out this terrifying realization: with all the freedom you’ve given us Lord, we’ve multiplied our transgressions and used the time you’ve given us for ourselves and haven’t given You a second thought. What’s worse, we don’t even feel remorse anymore! We cannot even shed a tear when we give in to our pride, our anger, our lusts, our focus on worldly pursuits and greed. Our hardness of heart frightens us – who will save us from our awful habit of crime? Our vices outnumber and outweigh our virtues! You have reminded us of our condition, but you have abandoned us to the things we have chosen. You give us no help against temptation because it is what we have truly desired and chosen and you are a just God who respects our freedom.
He fenced it [the church] in with a rampart, as it were of heavenly precepts and with the angels standing guard, for “the angel of the lord shall encamp round about them that fear him.” He placed in the church a tower, so to speak, of apostles, prophets and teachers, ready to defend the peace of the church. He dug around it, when he had freed it from the burden of earthly anxieties. For nothing burdens the mind more than exaggerated solicitude for the world and desire either for wealth or for power.