A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. 10On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
We Christians tend to read this with our own Christ-centered lens. The shoot–newness, replacing the old sad stump–and the branch–us, growing from the foundations that have been laid. And yet, this Scripture is purely Old Testament, purely Hebrew Scripture. It speaks of a vision, a vision when life will be what God calls it to be, when the earth and all that it holds will finally once and for all live together just as the Lord intended. Jesse was the father of David, the pinnacle of the great dynasty of Israel. But dynasties and kingdoms have life spans just as people do. And what was once a thriving political powerhouse becomes a stump, seemingly useless for the world, a shadow of the past. And yet, from what we thought was dead suddenly springs forth life, providing a foundation for a new shoot. It creates a new order, a new way of seeing the world, a time of peace and unity for all the world. The people of Israel expected this from their king. This was what God intended–an order of justice and righteousness and peace. They long for a dynasty such as this, one with all the solid foundations of the past but one that grows in righteousness.
So, back to the Christ-centered lens…new order, justice, righteousness, peace…isn’t that the thing for which we hope? In this season of Advent, we once again remember and live that hope of the people of Israel for the Messiah, the Savior of the World. And we prepare for this year’s coming that will once again push us just a little bit closer to who we are meant to me. And at the same time we wait for our own Advent, our own coming of God in its fullness. Advent is all these things. We long for that new creation. We long for the day when warriors will sit down with those that they now attack, when predators will live in peace with their victims, and when those that consume more than they need just because they can finally come to the realization that the resources of this world belong to all. We hope against hope for a world without poverty and homelessness, without the threat of annihilation from weapons of all kinds, a world where each and every child has enough nutrition and education and healthcare to grow and flourish into who God calls him or her to be.
So, are we the shoot or the stump? Are we the newness bursting forth or are we the foundation from whence it comes? The answer is yes. The two are so inter-connected that they cannot be separated. The shoot does not just drop out of the sky but is born into generations upon generations of waiting and hoping for the Light to come.
When I was in Israel a few years ago, I was fascinated with the olive trees. You see, they live hundreds or perhaps even a thousand years. And then they die, they leave what seems to be a mere stump. But the root system gives way to something new. So one of the oldest trees has a stump that is thousands of years old, almost petrified from the eons of weathering. But shooting from its foundation is another tree that is hundreds of years old. And shooting from it is another younger tree. And shooting from it is yet another brand new shoot. The tree is both a stump and a shoot, embracing the foundations of the past but leaving room for newness and recreation, leaving room for God’s work. And they exist together there in the garden, the Garden of Gethsemane.
God did not create a disposable world, regardless of what we do with it. God created an earth that would sustain itself not as individual lives making their way on others but as solid foundations giving way to new life. Both shoots and stumps are part of God’s vision for what will be. God is not replacing but recreating, redeeming, and resurrecting over and over again.
The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. (Julian of Norwich)
Reflection: Where are the stumps in your life? Now look closer. What shoots do you see emerging from them? Are there parts of your life that you have discarded before God was finished working on them?
Grace and Peace,
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