Rev. Katherine Todd
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.
Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,
“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name”;
and again he says,
“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;
“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him”;
and again Isaiah says,
“The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
I am struck by this image of a branch growing out of the roots of a tree – the stump of the tree of Jesse, scripture says.
I’ll read you this excerpt from the book, “The Hidden Life of Trees,” by Peter Wohlleben.
It is amazing that a tree felled four to five hundred years earlier would still be alive…at the roots. As a scientist with understanding of trees, it is even more amazing, because you know that the green color in these roots was only possible by chlorophyll, which this stump could not possibly create, having no leaves.
It became clear to this Arborist that this stump was being fed by neighboring trees…all these many four to five hundred years.
What a mystery!
Understanding how trees are connected by a web of fungi underneath the ground we walk on, is an emerging area of scientific research. We had no idea before that trees were interconnected. We had no idea that when we planted a tree in our yards, that we were asking it to survive on its own, without a community, without a support network developed over hundreds and thousands of years in a forest.
And so we return to this scripture, where we hear of a shoot coming out of the stump of the tree of Jesse, a branch growing from the roots of this stump…
Jesse was the father of David, King David, “a man after God’s own heart,” scripture tells us. And David’s throne was promised to be forever. But how could that be?
Over time, Israel falls to the Neo Assyrian empire. Judah alone remains, the smaller, less densely populated remnant of the Jewish people. But then there is Babylon, and despite Jeremiah’s warnings, the people are carried away into captivity. And the temple and the land are laid waste, baron and devoid of life.
So far, God’s promise that there will never cease to be a descendant of David on the throne, seems to be a false prophecy. There is no one on the throne of David.
But God calls Zechariah to return to the land and rebuilt the temple. And after that, the first resettlements of Jews occur to the holy land.
And then there is King Herod, who makes the temple mount bigger and better, and who rebuilds the temple, more glorious and magnificent that it had ever been before.
So, Israel seems to have hope again. But their hope is starting to be placed in the might of architecture. And their light is dim, with injustice and corruption rampant.
How can they be a light to the nations, if they themselves are barely shining?
And this is the Jewish nation into which Jesus is born.
Born of a woman who became pregnant by the Spirit of God, out of wed-lock. Born to a family from the po-dunk town of Nazareth. Born obscurely, in the shed for animals. Laid to rest in a feed trough….
This Christ came out of nowhere. Though a descendant of David, his lineage took turns through the most unholy of places, like the Moabite Naomi and Ruth. He was, by all worldly means, a nobody of nobodies.
…And yet, no star has shone so brightly, before or since, to mark the birth of this holy child. And yet, there were those who recognized him and rejoiced greatly in his coming, like Anna and Simeon. And yet, the wise men of the day traveled from far off places to come and pay him homage.
Indeed, a branch grew from the roots of the stump of Jesse.
Though light and hope and justice were dim, GOD was still at work, working all things for good, coming to this world as a little child, that ALL might finally know God’s love.
All along, this promise that David’s throne would have no end – it wasn’t for the sake of Israel alone, it was always for the sake of the whole world.
And despite the many times Israel stumbled and fell… Despite the times they were defeated and exiled… Despite the rise and fall of their kings and prophets… Despite the good and the evil of their religious elite… God showed up.
Even when they had been cut down. Even when their trunk had rotted away. Even when all that remained were the roots, even then life emerged. Even then, hope sprang up. Even then, God still came, and lived among us.
What joy! That even when we have made a thorough mess of all God’s good gifts to us, Christ can still redeem. Christ can still save. God still makes whole, what has been broken.
And so let us come, in our brokenness and incompleteness.
Let us come, with our failures and imperfection.
Let us come, even after death has stolen from us all that was beautiful and good.
For our God is not finished with us yet.
And our God can make life spring up, out of death.