The readings for this second Sunday of Advent presents me with a timely reminder of how important it is that I grow in the virtue of hope.
Isaiah describes a stump, not the tree, of Jesse. God promised a descendant of David would reign forever, and that promise seemed to have failed. The tree of Jesse was cut down when the Davidic lineage was cut off and the heirs killed or carried away captive. No clear path remained to offer a reasonable hope that the kingdom could be restored. To be quite frank, there was no reason for hope.
And that is exactly why hope is a virtue.
There’s little virtue in hope when the stars are aligned and circumstances render inevitable the object of our hope.
It is when the tree is chopped down, and we have every reason for discouragement and even to despair that hope becomes clearly virtuous.
This hope is the helmet of our salvation, offering protection for our mind and thoughts when we are assaulted by doubts and fears. It allows us to rejoice and be patient in tribulation. The Catechism teaches us that the virtue of hope “keeps man from discouragement; it sustains him during times of abandonment.” (CCC 1818)
Hope is not only internal, self-centered, and protective, however. The Catechism continues… “it opens up his heart in expectation of eternal beatitude. Buoyed up by hope, he is preserved from selfishness and led to the happiness that flows from charity.”
This gift of hope that causes us to desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our ultimate happiness makes us better neighbors by opening our hearts, and preserving us from selfishness.
Jesus speaks of wheat and chaff.
People who don’t know anything about grain sometimes get confused about this separation of the wheat from the chaff, thinking that surely they are wheat, and others must be the chaff, and that the wheat and chaff are related to one another the same way as fruitful and unfruitful trees.
When Jesus speaks of wheat and chaff, he is not primarily addressing different type of people, however, but different parts of the fruit of one plant.
The chaff is the dry, scaly protective covering over the tender kernel of wheat. It’s the boll around the cotton. Perhaps it is good to light a fire, or as part of cotton burr compost if your stripper is older or broken, but it is only in the way when it comes to the harvest.
I need to be purified by this hope, preserved from selfishness, and led to the happiness that flows from charity. I need to have my hard, dry scaly protective covering removed, so that the Lord can make use of my fruitfulness.
I don’t have to.
I can refuse to risk hope, staying closed to others, and keeping my hard, dry, protective covering.
It’s safe. I’m safe.
But the cost of doing so is that the good things God’s growing in me, my fruit, is inaccessible.
It is hard to imagine a world in which there is both justice AND peace, and where the predator/victim relationship is exchanged for something entirely peaceful, not just reversed so that lambs gnaw on wolf bones.
It is difficult to contemplate the possibility that we might learn to think in harmony and glorify God together. Not monotony, mind you, but harmony.
Do we even dare to dream of a world where we are open and welcoming, and don’t merely tolerate one another even to those who we might perceive as our enemies?
Am I courageous enough to allow God to open me up to my neighbor?
I hope so.
- Actively preparing for Christ’s coming – 1st Sunday of Advent
- Waiting Joyfully – Third Sunday of Advent (A)