As I mentioned previously, our family always cuts down a Christmas tree. Each year, we leave a stump in the ground—something that was once growing is now dead. Stumps in Oregon are a part of life. In fact Portland was built on the foundation of stumps. Bare hillsides in Oregon, where the forestry department utilizes a strategic plan for deforestation, make for haunting drives as you imagine the density and life that once filled skies and cast long shadows. The stumps whisper the story of life gone by, not the story of life to come. Yet, one prominent image of Advent is the stump.
The stump, where you’ve been cut down. The stump, where you’re soul has gone quiet. The stump, where you’ve been destroyed. The stump is that tangible picture in everyday life that the world is not thriving but decaying. What are the stumps in your daily life? What are those visible images of sin, death, and evil?
Isaiah 11:1-10 says, get ready for the fruitful branch that will come from the stump.
Read Isaiah 11:1-10.
Out of death, there’s hope and it’s a Person. Yes, out of the stump will come a shoot, a frail glimmer of life that will become a branch that will then bear fruit. Then, verse 2, Isaiah says: Him. The Spirit will rest on Him. From the ground of death will come a Person. A Person who will make things right. He will be wise and judge. He will see. He will decide. He will make peace out of war. Out of the stump will come fruit. When He comes, death will be turned to life. He will rule and be in charge. Finally! There will be someone to care. Not only that.
Isaiah goes on to describe the most bizarre picture of world peace! With the near naïveté of a beauty pageant contestant, Isaiah promises the shoot from the stump will make wolves sleep with lambs, calves snuggle with lions. Children leading the parade! Cows and bears together. The hunted and the hunter living at peace. The world no longer at odds.
Longing for Hope
While this passage speaks a message of great hope and sits in the pantheon of must-quote Christmas passages, I find many Christians bored with it. It doesn’t do anything for them. If anything, it doesn’t describe a life longed for in Jesus, but a life already received through the power of the holy supermarket, the wisdom of Wall Street, the counsel of consumerism, and knowledge and fear of the other.
In fact, I frequently encounter Christians that have little use for the coming Kingdom of God. It unnerves them to imagine this world making way for the world of Jesus. Perhaps you are such a Christian. You, with the help of a few others, have already built a peaceful kingdom. You hope things stay the same. If God wants to add a cherry on top, so be it, especially if it comes in the package you envision. So long as it fits the decorative tastes of your kingdom.
The hope described in the Bible feels like a luxury for the put-together, the self-sufficient, the safe, the secure, and the stable. Hope for the independently secure is like fine jewelry to wear around the house. It’s like the orange put in your stocking on Christmas morning. It’s a nice accent piece for an already secure life. Is the hope of Christ’s coming as a garnish?
To a person who lives in chaos, who breathes in the atmosphere of injustice, who tarries in the tyranny of trauma: hope is currency. Hope that injustice will become justice. Hope that death will become life. Hope that war will become peace. Hope that wounds will become wholeness. Hope for Christ’s coming, for the needy, is the foundation of life.
Isaiah 11:1-10 is that kind of hope. But it isn’t generic, blind hope. Its focus is on a King who is coming to bring justice. To make wrong things right. Sick things healthy. Outsiders insiders. Are you longing for hope?
See, your level of expectation and longing for Jesus’ Kingdom is the barometer of your soul towards God. I’m convinced one of the main reasons we struggle to embrace our identity as missionaries in the church is because we don’t think we need the hope we’re sharing. We would be fine without the arrival of Jesus. But we aren’t. We’ve covered the stump. We’ve built our lives on the stump. The truth is we’re dead without Him. The things we turn to for comfort and safety don’t provide either.
But here is the good news. It’s found in verses nine and ten. The earth shall be filled with the knowledge of Yahweh as the waters cover the sea. In that day, the root shall stand as a sign to all the people, the nations shall come and ask about Him. His resting place will be glorious! It will happen. The earth will be saturated with the knowledge of Jesus. The people of the world will ask about Him. The resting place—His tomb—will be filled with glory. From the stump comes life. Out of death comes resurrection!
Do you need that hope? Is the hope of Jesus’ coming a force that invades your entire life, or is He simply an added feature?