Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Expectant in Bethlehem: Wednesday of the Third Week of Advent

O come, thou Branch of Jesse’s tree,
free them from Satan’s tyranny
that trust thy mighty power to save,
and give them victory o’er the grave.

(from The Hymnal 1982, hymn 56)

I notice the new sign as I drive by and wonder how long it has been there. The well-crafted, attractive new marker for the inn occupies the place vacated by a once proud beech.  The tree had stood there strong and tall, majestically arching over a vast space. Until a storm last year took it down.

Now a bed-and-breakfast, the inn inhabits the former grand home of a family that a century and a half ago invited neighbors into their living room for evening prayer—and started a church. A church that grew into the cathedral congregation now occupying the block across the street, a beacon of life in its urban setting.

The destruction of that beech tree gave way for other signs as well.

I recently traveled to South Sudan on a mission of friendship. Out of an amazing set of circumstances, a relationship has been engendered between the Diocese of Bethlehem in Northeastern Pennsylvania and the Diocese of Kajo-Keji in South Sudan. I carried with me greetings from one Bishop to another, teaching tools to share with the children I would visit in the schools we have built together, and an important gift. Carefully wrapped in tissue paper, a wooden cup and plate, chalice and paten. A faithful craftsman of the cathedral congregation in Bethlehem turned two sets of these vessels. One I placed in the hands of the Dean of Emmanuel Cathedral in Kajo-Keji. Its twin resides at Nativity Cathedral in Bethlehem. Both were crafted from the very branches of that beech tree.

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots,” writes the Prophet Isaiah.

From the roots of a family, from the roots of a beech tree, from the roots of a war-torn country, from the stump of Jesse, hope continues to flourish. O come, Emmanuel.

copyright © Anne E. Kitch 2012