December 4, 2016

2nd Sunday of Advent
‘BRINGERS OF HOPE’

BIBLE READINGS
Isaiah 11:1-10

Matthew 3:1-12

REFLECTION

The civil war in Syria is probably one of the most devastating wars in modern history, yet the world seems to turn a blind eye to it. Every day I receive news and photos from the besieged rebel-held areas of Aleppo, showing the devastation that is happening daily there. Thousands of civilians had been recklessly killed in Eastern Aleppo, many of them were women and children.

I experienced a mix of emotions every time I read the news and saw those photos. I felt really sad and angry, but also helpless in the face of such tragedy. What can I do to help them when the most powerful institutions and nations of the world seem so incompetent and impotent to stop this barbarity?

Friends, sometimes we can feel hopeless and helpless in the face of evil in the world. “What can we do?” we ask ourselves, “ What can we do?”

Let us look back to the prophecy that we hear today from the book of Isaiah. The prophecy was given to the people of Israel during their own time of hopelessness and helplessness as captives in Babylon. It imagined and hoped for the restoration of the dynasty of their greatest King, David. Their kingdom may have been destroyed, but a new shoot, Isaiah declared, would come out of the stump of the old tree.

Now, a stump may be a symbol of destruction, but it can also represent hope. A stump is only a small piece of the original tree, but as long as its roots are alive, it can grow back to become a big tree.

This kind of message may sound rather foolish, especially when you were in exile in a foreign land with most of your countrymen and women. But, Isaiah did not lose hope. “Someone,” he said, “Would arise from the house of David to rule Israel once again.”

But, this person would be like no other king before him. This person would bring judgment to the wicked and vindicate the righteous. He would care for the poor and the weak in the land.

For us, Christians, this prophecy was fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus was born from the line of David. In his life, we see someone who treated everyone based not on their appearances or backgrounds, but on their characters. In him, we see someone who sided with the poor and the weak and the neglected in the land. In him, we see someone who challenged the power of evil that oppressed people. Through him, we learn how to love, how to forgive, even how to pray for our enemies. In his life and ministry, we see the fullness of God’s reign fulfilled.

So, for us, Christians, the stump of Jesse that Isaiah proclaimed is no other than Jesus himself. We, on the other hand, are the ones who proclaim about the stump. We are the ones who point people to the stump. We are to be like John the Baptist who prepare the way and proclaim about the one who would bring judgment in God’s name.

One of the most influential theologians, C.S. Lewis once said, “Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”[1] Indeed, we are the ‘little stumps’. And, as little stumps, Christ’s vision must become our vision. His mission must become our mission.

And his mission is beautifully depicted in Isaiah’s prophecy that we read today. Jesus came to bring a new order into the world where the preyed will live in harmony with the predator; where the oppressed will be reconciled with the oppressor; where the desire to hurt and destroy will be replaced with the desire to live together as one family.

In his prophecy, Isaiah takes us back to the paradise that God created during the time of creation.[2] There, in the garden of Eden, the first humans: Adam and his wife, Eve, lived side by side peacefully with other creatures.

In other words, Isaiah proclaimed that the curse that befell the world because of Adam and Eve’s sins[3] would be reversed. In the new world that God is creating, everything will be like what it was in the beginning. In the new world, all will live side by side in peace and harmony.

So, friends, in this season of Advent, we are to bring the message of hope to the world that yearns for such message. We are to remind people that all is not lost because as long as there is a stump, a new tree is always possible.

During the time of the Holocaust, in WWII, some unlikely heroes appeared. These were the German soldiers who risked their lives to save the Jews that they were supposed to eliminate.

One of them was Wilm Hosenfeld, an officer in the German army. He was no ordinary soldier. He was once awarded the Iron Cross First Class for his bravery in WWI.

Hosenfeld was also a member of the NAZI party and once adored Hitler, calling him a genius. Yet, he somehow managed to recover his humanity and maintained his integrity until his death after the war in a Russian concentrations camp.

One person he saved was the popular Polish-born-and-raised Jewish pianist, Władysław Szpilman. Hosenfeld discovered Szpilman in a ruined house in Poland. But, instead of handing him over to the SS death squad, he hid Szpillman, keeping him alive by bringing him food regularly.

Szpillman was not the only person Hosenfeld saved. It was estimated that he saved around 60 Polish citizens during the war; some of them were Jews. In his letter to his wife in 1940, he wrote, “It is pitiful to see these poor men, their miserable state, but we are powerless. But I seek to help who I can.”[4]

He was not the only German soldier doing such righteous act of mercy. Another one was Gerhard Kurzbach, a German commander of an army workshop in Poland.

One day, he came to a Jewish ghetto with a truck, rounding up the Jewish people in the ghetto into the truck, screaming and yelling at them. But, that was all part of his plan to save them from deportation to concentration camps that was happening in the ghetto. He took the people in the truck to his workshop and locked the gates.

He saved hundreds of Jews on that day.

His action didn’t go unnoticed unfortunately. A few months later, the German army arrested him. It was presumed that he was court-marshaled soon after and executed.[5]

Many years later after the war ended, Both Hosenfeld and Kurzbach were posthumously recognized by the modern Israeli government as the Righteous Among the Nations. This title is given to those non-Jewish people who rescued the Jews during the horror of WWII. Their actions were like the lights coming from flickering candles in the midst of utter darkness.

Friends, these men remind us that in the midst of evil, there is still a ‘stump’ of goodness in human soul. This ‘stump’ is the seed that God has planted within each one of us. We are to nurture this seed, this stump, until it grows into a tall and strong tree.

Friends, the world may descend into hopelessness. We too may fall into despair and into what seems to be an insurmountable sense of helplessness. But, our role, this Advent, is to bear witness to ‘the Stump of Jesse’ within each one of us. To proclaim that as long as this stump still exists within the heart and soul of every human being, all is not lost. We still have hope.

Amen.

Rev. Toby Keva

[1] C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity on http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/161004-now-the-whole-offer-which-christianity-makes-is-this-that

[2] Genesis 2.

[3] See Genesis 3.

[4] Allan Hall, 'The good Nazi': Courageous story of guilt-wracked German officer who saved 'The Pianist' and inspired Hollywood blockbuster, on http://www.dailymail.co.uk (Published: 00:32 +11:00, 28 November 2015 | Updated: 21:40 +11:00, 28 November 2015)

[5] Ofer Aderet, A Survivor Thanks the Nazi Who Saved Him, on http://www.haaretz.com (Apr 08, 2013 2:24 AM)