Scripture for the second Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 11.1-10; Psalm 72.1-7, 18-19; Romans 15.4-13; Matthew 3.1-12
I have never quite become used to the idea of cold pizza for breakfast, which is something that was a mystery to me until I acquired stepchildren some years ago – although there are those who delight in it. I suppose that we all have our favourite dish created from some sort of leftovers.
In fact, leftovers, or remnants, form one of the themes of Advent, as when Isaiah proclaims that “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse …” – the faithful remnant of the people of Israel. John the Baptist found only a minority of listeners who would follow his command to repent, in fear (as in reverence and awe) of God: a remnant.
Isaiah wrote for a dispersed and demoralised people more afraid of God than in awe, yet he foresaw God’s spirit-breath transforming this remnant into something magnificent: the wind blows over the stump and transforms it.
It is quite remarkable what God can do with our ‘stumps’ and remnants. I know a young woman with myalgic encephalomyelitis (chronic fatigue syndrome, CFS), which can be frustrating because it can be invisible from the outside. She recently went to investigate the possibility of working at one of the communities of L’Arche, homes established by Jean Vanier for disabled adults. Asked about her capabilities and limitations, she felt obliged to disclose her condition. The woman facing her told her that she, too, had suffered from CFS, but had made sufficient recovery to work at L’Arche. It was liberating and encouraging to find someone who understood, and who despite having what felt like leftovers in terms of energy was able to make a compassionate contribution to a community.
This is what Advent is about, in part: that God loves us despite (or maybe because of) our limitations, and can work with us to find our place in God’s plan for us and our world. Sometimes our world or our lives seem full of hopelessness, like the impossible optimism of Isaiah’s prophecy. But instead of dried lifeless stumps, God sees the potential for shoots and branches. We can take our place in bringing shoots to life and bringing the fullness of God’s kingdom ever nearer, and this should give us hope.
When we feel as though we don’t have anything to contribute, or that we have no energy with which to do so, we can have hope and faith in God’s ability to work with ‘even the least’ of what we think that we have to offer – the cold pizza of our lives. We might respond by offering God more than just the leftovers, or remnants of what we do have.