Lord Emmanuel

Homily for Friday, December 18, 2020

When I was a boy, there were two very large elm trees in our front yard. As I am sure you remember, during the 1950’s, a disease started to attach the elm trees of our country, a disease called Dutch elm disease. The city of Milwaukee deemed it necessary to cut down all the elm trees throughout the city. Thus 49th Street, which had been a shaded thoroughfare, went to a bare street in a matter of days. Though my stepfather immediately replaced the two elms with a new tree, it was a slender, spindly thing that didn’t offer much shade at all.

As I was preparing today’s homily, for some reason I thought about the two tree stumps in our front yard. Within a year, the stumps started sprouting new growth. So that summer, we set about digging out those tree stumps.

Isaiah speaks of a righteous shoot raising up to King David. It is a lovely image, but it also a sad image because the shoot is springing forth from a stump. This is all that is left of the mighty house of Israel which has fallen on hard times as the children of Israel have forsaken their covenant relationship with the Lord, the word that we use to translate “Adonai.” The term appears four times in this brief reading, perhaps most impressively as the Lord our Justice. 

Another word appears in the Gospel that refers to God, the word “Emmanuel.” We usually consider the name Emmanuel only in relation to the Christmas narrative. The name means “God is with us.” The name actually frames the entire Gospel of St. Matthew as it ends with these words from Jesus, “Behold, I am with you always, to the close of the age.” The Gospel begins where it ends – in the realization that God is with us always. Though the Israelites abandoned Adonai and many modern cultures have abandoned God, the Gospel assures us today that God is indeed with us always, even among those who do not recognize the Lord.

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

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