Forty odd years ago I knew nothing about bananas. Moving into a new home in Amanzimtoti I was thrilled to find young banana trees in the garden. They produced splendid purple flowers at the top of their stems and magnificent bunches of delicious bananas. We had bananas for breakfast, lunch and supper, baked banana bread, gave bananas away… we went, well, bananas.
Then, horrors! The banana trees began to lean over and wilt. I propped them up with wooden poles, weeded all around them, watered them, treated them with fungicide. I pleaded with them not to die. But they died anyway. Devastated, I asked an agricultural friend: “How do I stop my banana trees dying?”
“Cut them down.”
“While they are dying, new shoots come up at the base, then you chop the old trees down.”
That’s what I did. New shoots appeared. Saying goodbye to the old trees, I cut them down. The next season we ate bananas again.
The book of Isaiah, Chapter 61 vs 11 says: For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord will cause righteousness and praise to spring up.
Remarkably, this verse was composed in the rubble of Jerusalem, ruined by Babylonians decades before, its inhabitants exiled to Babylon. Their children, now returned, asked, “Do we rebuild the past, or something new?”
Isaiah chose the new: Good news for the oppressed, healing, liberty, gladness, restitution.
Fast forward 500 years to Thessalonica in Macedonia. The locals think the world is ending; things can’t go on as they are. That may be, writes St Paul (1 Thessalonians: 5), we don’t know; it will be like “a thief in the night”. So what to do? St Paul says, “Let us not fall asleep…let us keep awake…we belong to the day… we arm ourselves with faith, love and hope…encourage one another and build each other up.” Every ending contains the green shoots of new beginnings.
John (John 1: 19ff) was known for baptising people preparing for renewal. If John the Baptist had lived in KZN he might have said: “Don’t look for new bananas on old banana trees… look for new shoots.”
For Christians at Christmas the new shoot is a baby.