When Jesus entered the Temple, he drove out all those who were selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those selling doves. He said to them, “Scripture says, ‘My house is called a house of prayer’, but you make it a den of thieves!”
Those who were blind or couldn’t walk came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. When the chief priests and teachers of the Law saw the wonderful things Jesus did, and heard the children shouting “Hosanna to the Heir of the House of David!” throughout the Temple area, they became indignant.
“Do you hear what the children are shouting?” they asked him.
“Yes,” Jesus replied. “Have you never read, ‘From the mouths of children and nursing babies, you have brought forth praise?”
After leaving them, he went out to Bethany to spend the night.
When he returned to the city early in the morning, Jesus grew hungry.
Seeing a fig tree by the road, he walked over to it but found only leaves.
So he said to it, “You will never bear fruit again.” And immediately, the tree withered.
The disciples were amazed when they saw this.
“How was it,” they asked, “that the tree withered on the spot like that?”
Jesus answered, “The truth is, if you have faith and don’t doubt, not only can you do what I did to the fig tree, but you can even say to this mountain, ‘Get up and throw yourself into the sea!’ and it will happen.
Everything you pray for in faith, you will receive”. [Matthew 21:12-22]
So, do you have an Advent Wreath set up in your home or at your church? I wonder what it looks like. A wheel with spokes and places on the rim for four candles? A compass with lights at its four cardinal points? A clock face, a watch, for counting down the four weeks until Christmas? That’s how mine look, both at church and at home.
The Advent Wreath here in the Chapel of St. Ignatius looks different, so different as to disorient and intrigue at the same time. Come, walk over with me to the wreath and be disoriented and intrigued.
I see no wheel or compass or clock. It’s a tree stump. Cedar tree, I’m guessing, like many of the other wooden objects in this chapel. A withered tree, a dead tree. A tree uprooted and brought down by a windstorm, perhaps, or a lightning strike. Then washed down the mountain by a landslide or a river swollen with rain water. In the rough, cold sea, the tree was churned, reduced to its core, its roots, scrubbed and scored.
But now this stump, this dead, withered cedar tree, has been reborn as an Advent Wreath. It has been turned upside down. Roots that once burrowed deep into the earth are raised to the sky. These upraised arms and hands now support the light and life of four large, fat candles.
As I gaze on it, the Chapel of St. Ignatius Advent Wreath disorients this morning’s gospel reading; or better, calls attention to its intriguing hub. Between Matthew’s accounts of Jesus’ clearing out the Temple and withering a fruitless fig tree, apocalyptic texts both, comes a little anti-apocalyptic story of new life and fruitfulness. In the Temple, the very same Temple he just cleansed, Jesus heals needy people in such numbers and with such wonderful power that the children of the city could not restrain their shouts of joy.
I wonder which of these two themes from Jesus’ life and words you most need to hear this Advent: the apocalyptic tearing down and clearing out of withered and moribund structures and habits, or the amazing reversal of apocalyptic visions themselves? If by faith we can uproot even mountains, then surely an uprooted cedar stump with roots raised to the sky can help us count down the wheel or the compass or the clock of our lives as we await new life and light in faithful prayer.
~ Mark Lloyd Taylor, Ph.D.