by Sean Foster on December 1, 2013

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The 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. His 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; but 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. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The 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. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They 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. On 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. Isaiah 11:1-10

Today we begin our journey to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus – the Christ.

Advent, the season that we enter today is a season of hope, anticipation and joyful preparation. The hope for us is the return of Christ to finish the work that he began with his first coming. We anticipate this because it means the completion of God’s work of salvation and reconciling the whole world back to himself.

I am reminded of a story I once heard about Greda Weissmann, a Nazi concentration camp survivor. She retells her days when she and fellow concentration camp inmates would be forced to stand for hours on end for the daily roll call. She recalled being so hungry and fatigued that she didn’t have the energy to stand and would nearly collapse with exhaustion.

But in the corner of this bleak and horrid place, there in the midst of some broken concrete, from one of the cracks a flower had poked it’s head through. She said, in the morning you would see thousands of feet shuffling, but would always avoid stepping on the flower. That tiny flower in the midst of depression, pain, abuse, starvation and fatigue represented hope in a place where it seemed that hope was impossible.

As I reflect, I’m not so sure that we Christians in North America have a longing for Christ to return to complete His work of salvation. We are surrounded by wealth and extravagance that most of the world does not enjoy. We wonder at the decline in the Church, but really, it is no great mystery is it? I mean, who needs God, when we already have so much, more in fact than what we actually need. I mean, Jesus said the same thing when he said, how hard it is for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:23)

Who needs God with so many distractions. If it is being social that you crave, you can get that at the local arena. God,…. A relationship with the Almighty, our creator, takes a back seat. It’s not that people have given up on the idea of God, but there does not seem to be the need to be in relationship with God.

People perceive the Church as a place that makes you feel bad about having fun in life. Of course, that is not the purpose of the Church. It is my hope that the church exists to help people understand and grow in their relationship with God through Christ; and to work out our salvation together.

There are other places in the world where if it was not for God being in their lives, they would have no hope at all. When I travelled to India, Christians there do not understand Christians in North America. They look at us and shake their heads. No persecution to speak of, no suffering for the faith, and still we ignore the greatest gift that God has ever given. We take up our Christianity when it is convenient, or when the need is great.

The problem with our many blessings and extravagance is that we do not desire or even feel the need to deepen our relationship with God through Christ. It makes me wonder if we will be like the Pharisees and Scribes who did not even recognize the Messiah when he arrived. The Pharisees and Scribes thought they were close to God only to have it pointed out that they lacked what was most important – a relationship with God.

I mean, that’s what it’s about. It’s not about doing the right thing, or even appearing to do the right thing, it is about being in relationship with God through Christ. Christ came to establish a new covenant, a new relationship based on love, not following the law. God craves being in relationship with us so much that he sent His Son to die for us to redeem us, to reconcile us back to God. And Christians in countries like India, where following Christ could mean their own lives, they look at us in North America and say, with so much good in our lives, living in the prosperity and freedom of North America; why do we neglect our relationship with God? The most important relationship we could ever have.

As we turn to that lesson from the prophet Isaiah, this is a word of hope to a people desperate for a word of hope.

The people of Israel had been devastated by the Assyrian army. Their lives had been completely destroyed. Professor Dr. Bill Self describes it well. He writes: Five times during those 40 years, the Assyrian Army, a vast and superior Assyrian army stampeded through the hill country of Israel working terror and desctruction, wherever it went. With no regard for anyone’s religion or life, they came like a scorpion plague, devouring everything and everyone in their path. Over and over again the people of Judah were ravaged and piliged. The horrible sounds of war were familiar. The cries of pain seldom ceased. Who could plant a harvest with the hope that it would survive to harvest. Homes that were rebuilt were only destroyed again. Mothers could not even bear children with the hope of them reaching maturity. They would be killed just like everything else.

The only hope left for the people was for God to intervene, and to put a stop to the destruction of their lives. And it is here in the midst of the pain and suffering – the prophet Isaiah is given a word of Hope for the people.

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse: from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the Spirit of Wisdon and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:1-2)

Isaiah prophesies the good news of the coming Messiah. From the stump of Jesse, the Messiah would come from the family line of King David, whose father was Jesse. A family line that is nothing more than a dead stump, out of that family line, a shoot will appear and grow a branch that will bear much fruit.

It is a wonderful metaphor – just when it seems that all hope is lost, God is doing a new thing, new growth out of that which seemed dead and hopeless. A branch will grow and bear fruit. Like a flower growing through a crack in the pavement. Life, where it seemed impossible for life to exist.

The hope of the people of God, from this royal line, God would raise up a Messiah who would have a Spirit of wisdom and understanding. Someone who does not judge by the ways of the world in what they see and hear, but rather, will be One who judges with righteousness and will give justice.

Before I continue to unravel this text, it is fascinating to me that we find this word of hope in the midst of such darkness. A truly frightening and terrible time of destruction for the Jewish people. But if we read even more of the context we find there is even more hope to be found.

The book of Isaiah is divided into three parts. The first part containing the first 39 chapters of Isaiah are generally words of judgment – with very few exceptions. If you read through that first section of Isaiah, this prophetic word of Isaiah in chapter 11 really sticks out. Here we find an unusual word of hope and healing in the midst of darkness, destruction and judgment.

I mean, in chapter 9, the prophet Isaiah foretells the destruction of Israel. Because the people had forsaken and forgot God, God would allow Isreals enemies to triumph and destroy them. As the prophet speaks, he declares the reasons why God will allow the people to be destroyed. For everyone is ungodly and wicked, every mouth speaks vileness. (Isaiah 9:17). And then at the beginning of chapter 10, listen to the prophet speak God’s judgement. What will they do on that day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? (Isaiah 10:3)

But here’s the thing. On either side of this judgement of God that is spoken through the prophet Isaiah, there are two words of hope. The one that was read to us today from Isaiah chapter 11: that out of the stump of Jesse, a shoot will come forth whose Branch will bear much fruit.

But even before the word of judgement is spoken, we read an even more familiar word of hope concerning the coming Messiah. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. (Isaiah 9:2) For to us a child is born. To us a Son is given. And the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called the Wonderful, the Counsellor, the Mighty God. (Isaiah 9:6)

God does not give up on his people. He loves us. He wants to be in realationship with us. But our sin separates us from God.

God allows the people to be punished for their sin, but he does not give up on them. He loves us, and finds a new way to be in relationship with us. Out of the stump of Jesse. From David’s royal line, a new shoot. A child will be born, a son will be given. To bring the people back into relationship with Him again.

Over and over again the people fall away from God, so God decides, I will give my Son to reconcile the people back to me. That their sin, the very thing that separates them from God, can be forgiven.

And it’s not just humanity that God has come to save. This redemptive work of salvation is for the entire creation. Listen to the prophetic words of the prophet Isaiah who describes the coming peace. The work of the Messiah is to redeem all of creation, not just humanity. Because of this new shoot that grows out of the stump of Jesse:
The wolf and the lamb will live together.
• The leopard will lie with the goat.
• The calf, the lion and the yearling – together.
• The cow will feed with the bear.
• The lion will eat straw like an ox.
• An infant will play near the hole of a cobra.
• A child will be able to put their hand in a vipers nest.
• And they will neither harm nor destroy.

(Isaiah 11:6-9a)
The Messiah brings peace and reconciliation. A restoration of creation and humanity.

Today we begin our journey through Advent. We make our way once again to Bethlehem to celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior: Jesus the Messiah.

It is a time of great expectation. As we eagerly await Christ’s return to complete His work of salvation and redemption.

And as we remember again, God’s incredible love for us, His redemptive work through His Son, it is a time of joyful preparation – that we be ready for his return.


Let us pray.

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