Isaiah 11:1-10 NIVUK
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him –the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,the Spirit of counsel and of might,the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord – 3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his beltand faithfulness the sash round his waist. 6 The wolf will live with the lamb,the leopard will lie down with the goat,the calf and the lion and the yearling together;and a little child will lead them. 7 The cow will feed with the bear,their young will lie down together,and the lion will eat straw like the ox. 8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. 9 They will neither harm nor destroyon all my holy mountain,for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lordas the waters cover the sea. 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting-place will be glorious.
It may not, for some, be clear that these verses are associated with Christmas. It’s not one of those classics, the ones we remember fondly from our childhood. The story of Mary, Joseph, little donkey off to Bethlehem, some shepherds, three wise men, etc etc. But it is a promise from God that there will be a saviour. That God will intervene in the world and in the lives of every human being. A hope in something as we battle with the circumstances of life and the difficulties of facing situations we do not necessarily understand. So how on earth does a prophecy of some plant thing, sprouting, make any difference at Christmas?
Now I have made it abundantly clear, on several occasions, that gardening is not for me. Takes too much effort, it involves too much dirt and absolutely takes too much time. God bless those that do enjoy it and their diligence and effort means I may, I may, partake in the fruit of their labours. THAT IS A HUGE HINT BY THE WAY.
These verses start with an image that can evoke many memories for gardeners. When we hear the words “shoot growing” we think of the first tiny green leaves sprouting, pushing through the earth. It must be exciting. However in the midst of winter this isn’t a daily occurrence and not an image we expect we would experience. Damp, cold, frost and decay may be more fitting in the depths of December.
But at Christmas God finds a way to bring life to something that seems dead.
God finds a way.
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse. . .” The stump is dead. Just before this chapter, God declares “the tallest trees will be cut down and the lofty will be brought low.” The trees, the people — both will be clean cut off. When all is lost, broken and without hope, our first call is not normally to look at what was left behind? Is it? Because a dead stump will produce…well, in normal circumstances, you might imagine nothing. Well that’s never true is it. It never is a place of just death and decay.
As a child I remember running riot everywhere. Honestly it might seem a little hard to believe looking at me now, but things were different way back in the depths of time. Despite all that running about I do recall, when up in the hills, in the woods, often coming across many an old gnarled fallen tree or the stumps left when trees had been felled. They seemed at first to be dead but out of them there was always life.
We may not have a memory of woods etc but many of us have seen the persistent plant breaking through what is the hardest, most lifeless concrete or rock. Rock that even a jackhammer might find difficult to penetrate, yet there are plants that thrive in those conditions and are able to continue life and push through what seems to be barren, when there seems to be no soil. There is an experiment where seeds were encased in a concrete mix and left. After a time that concrete was broken open and yes you guess it the seeds had soaked up what water there was and began to sprout. Honestly amazing. Life where you and I might think it was impossible.
The miracle of life in the harshest of places. That is this shoot, that is what God brings at Christmas in Jesus. That small, new life, bringing hope of a different way, a miracle in what seems to be hopeless and dead. You might think there is no soil to grow it in but there is still a place for this shoot to sprout in your life no matter what the circumstances. Like that small tender shoot bursting through the concrete there Jesus is if only you see Him.
When I came to faith it was from a place where NO ONE and I mean NO ONE, even my girlfriend at the time, now my wife, expected it. A work colleague who was a christian wouldn’t believe it at first. My friends did not expect it. Why? Because the ground was dead. If anything I had very strong views of religion that are not for delicate ears or to be shared in a carol service. The ground was truly, to human eyes, barren and hopeless. Yet here I am. A shoot growing on a stump of a life. That shoot was not a religion but it was Jesus. There is a very big difference.
And with that shoot growing in you it can also grow in your household (because household is the word we’re told we need to use now). Again you might feel there is no place for it to grow or that you’ve not seen it for a good while. Or that more concrete or dead stumps have been thrown up in its way. But nothing stops this life from growing in any place or time or in any person.
Christmas allows for fresh impetus for that growth to reappear or break once more through the circumstances. A fresh look at what God can truly do. That from death He can bring life. And that life can be nurtured even more to succeed when we pray along with Him for those on the same journey as us but have still to see the shoot. Allowing the holy spirit to guide our actions and voices so that we encourage the growth in our loved ones as God opens their eyes to see His power to bring life in the midst of decay.
This is true of how we feel sometimes. And when it comes to our loved ones, our neighbours and our communities. How many of us have said THERE IS NO WAY that something is going to happen here, in them or to change this. They are never going to change. This or that can never happen. Who could imagine anything growing on the stump of utter despair, within deadened hearts and in a disparate life? I’ve sat there myself, perhaps you have, too. You may be there now — at that place where hope is cut off. You will all know someone who is faced with similar situations and people but God says…
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse…”
God’s coming gives hope to the desperate, life to the dead and His spirit revives the seemingly impossible situations. Our response is to look past that which hinders and see the fragile signs of growth. To allow God to water them. Maybe then we will see faith grow in us and that tiniest shoot will be seen by others and they would hope more in this God who comes at Christmas.
There is a lovely encouragement that I’ve heard relating these verses. Can’t remember who said it now but that’s old age. It’s this, At Christmas time God invites us to move beyond counting the rings of the past. We may still want to sit on the stump for a while, but God will sit with us. God will also keep nudging us: saying “Look! Look — there on the stump. Do you see that green shoot growing?”