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A Father Who Keeps His Promises

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

In the first reading today, we hear a promise from the Lord God: “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD, and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD,” (Isaiah 11:1-2).

From these two simple verses we receive not only the allusion to the Stump of Jesse, but also the gifts we associate with the Holy Spirit and the Sacrament of Confirmation. Officially the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are: Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Piety, Fear of the Lord (W U K C F P F… mnemonic device: "We Forgot Keys Under Frank's Cactus Plant")

But back to the Stump of Jesse…. Jesse is the father of King David. Today in Isaiah we experience a beautiful prophecy: God will fulfill his promise to David. Despite the fact that it appears that the line of David had been cut off, our Lord God fulfills his promises and a new shoot emerges from what had seemed to be a mere stump. The Lord is faithful to his people.

As far back as the Garden of Eden, we witness the promise of our good God to do something radical and new for his people. Even as Adam and Eve fell, and paradise was closed to them, and death and suffering became a part of every human existence, God was preparing salvation for his people. The Lord promised, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; they will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel,” (Gn 3:15). In the Christian tradition, both Jesus and Mary were taken as offspring who crush the serpent’s head. For this reason, Mary has often been depicted in art stepping on the head of the snake. Saint Paul suggested that Jesus would be the descendent (or offspring) who would fulfill the promise beyond the law (Gal 3:16-19).

In Christ Jesus, God has visited his people. The “O” Antiphon calling our attention today refers to the passage from Isaiah: “O Root of Jesse's stem, sign of God's love for all his people: come to save us without delay.” And time and again in this wondrous series of antiphons, we are begging to be saved, freed, healed and restored. Like our first parents, we are hungry for the remedy to sin.

Today - December 8th - is usually the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Shifted to Monday to keep the Second Sunday of Advent, we will still commemorate the awesome reality that our Mother Mary was conceived in the womb of Saint Anne without any stain of sin or its consequences, with a view to the life-giving passion of her Son. That phrase is key. With an eye to, or in anticipation of the sacrifice of Jesus, his mother was conceived immaculately.

Hence the words of Pope Pius IX (Dec 8, 1854), “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful....” Jesus her Son, saves Mary too, but in this case by anticipation, and so preserves her immaculate to be the most fitting human being to bring forth the Word made flesh, Who is also mysteriously God from God and Light from Light, as we profess each Sunday in the Nicene Creed.

 Therefore, we can with great assurance also profess, that Mary too longed for the birth of the Savior - more perfectly and with greater devotion than the rest of us could manage, since she did so with an immaculate heart. Mary is a special sign to us of a Father who keeps his promises.

In Christ through Mary,

Fr. Wilson