Already, with the first reading for the First Sunday of Advent, we hear of the little shoot – in Jeremiah it is a just little shoot. It is most familiar to us from Isaiah: a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. (Isaiah 11.1) It is most dear in this season as we softly sing of its fulfillment, Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung… amid the cold of winter, when half-spent was the night.
We have begun a new liturgical year. The storm damage of the season past has been cleared away, but the dead stump remains. So it would seem. Often it is only in the early spring ritual of raking out cold, matted leaves from under the bushes that we see the signs of new life. Lifting the heavy, wet leaves reveals the first crocuses breaking through the still frosty earth, stirring us to new life.
Under the shrub we discover a tender shoot layered from the old, overgrown stock. Gently we nestle it with the mulch that nurtured it, carefully watching in the coming weeks for its first bud to open, the familiar leaf so oversized on the tiny stem. For now, it must continue to grow sheltered by the mother plant, still feeding from the established root system. Later, the root will be cut and it will be time to transplant. Or, perhaps, it will grow to fill the space left as the original plant dies back and we cut away the dead wood. Its blooms may be of another color.
In Isaiah, the gentle breath of the Spirit breathes life into the little shoot: the Root of Jesse becomes a sign of hope to the nations. Here and now we see darkly the dead stump in the backyard, but already, in the wintry night air, we can see our breath – God’s gift of life from generation to generation.
Reflection by Sister Carol Curtis, OSU
On that day,
The root of Jesse,
set up as a signal for the peoples—
Him the nations will seek out;
his dwelling shall be glorious.