A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
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—
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;
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.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
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.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. (New International Version)
In some quarters of Christianity, the church exists as a mere stump of its former existence. In many Christians’ daily experience the Spirit has been supplanted by individual ingenuity, hard work, and getting ahead through accumulation of more and more. Basic Christian spirituality is a mere shadow of its former influence. If Christians desire the Spirit of the Lord to rest upon them, they will seek Christ as of foremost importance.
Indeed, it is when we are worn down to a stump and have no ability to grow or sustain life anymore that God enters, specializing in giving hope to the hopeless, justice for the poor, wisdom to the confused, and peace to all who desire a harmonious world.
In the awful feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, a faint sign of life can be seen. A fresh shoot becomes discernible. Could there be possibility amidst impossible circumstances? Can there be life again? Do I dare hope again? Will things really change, and do so for the better?
The answer is “yes.” For where the Spirit of the Lord blows there is the force of resurrection power, spiritual energy, and fresh courage. Where others see only the impossible, the believer has a capacity of faith to see the possible. The Spirit’s force generates possibility where none existed before. When the breath of God whispers to the sprout in the stump, pessimistic despair turns to optimistic hope, even joy.
Christ is the Christian’s hope. In Christ, there is security, well-being, and life. With Jesus, there is a vision of justice in which all persons receive what they need to live, thrive, and flourish in God’s world. Christ works for our benefit without the personal greed and indifference of so many earthly rulers. The weak and vulnerable have a champion in Jesus Christ. Renewal and restoration are possibilities.
I have taken a liking to a show called “The Repair Shop,” a British television series in which family heirlooms with sentimental value are restored by experts for their owners. What captivates me about the show is how a few people can take old broken-down items (and by all appearances now a piece of junk) and restore them to their once glorious newness.
Yet, there is more to my captivation. I am struck by the sheer pleasure the restorers take in handling the old object, enjoying the process. Just by the looks on their faces, I can tell they consider it a privilege to be restoring a precious object of the past.
I am sure this is precisely how God feels with us. Rather than envisioning the Lord as some reluctant deity who feels put out with having to rescue a bunch of dumb and wayward people, God is One who takes delight in taking this old stump of fallen damaged humanity and restoring people to their original luster and beauty.
Transformation is God’s specialty, and the Lord goes about the process of restoration with great care and delight.
The impossible possibility of God’s new creation is poetically described in Isaiah as the peaceful co-existence of animals who are inconceivably together without fear or violence. There is a time coming when death will be no more, and so, the necessity in this life of hunter and prey will be forever negated. No more snakes terrorizing women and children. No more big fishes eating little ones. No more human fat cats preying upon and striking poison on the small and vulnerable.
The presence of the godly Ruler means the world will be governed rightly, detoxified of its sinful impurities – a place where the poor, the weak, and the little lambs will indeed be safe and secure forever. There will be peace because of the Prince of Peace. All creation will be full of God, and so, free of all malice.
The Lord will bring about a metamorphosis of human hearts and institutions, a renovation of the animal kingdom, and a radical change down to every blade of grass in creation. The Apostle Paul had this grand prophetic vision of God in mind when he wrote to the Church at Rome:
I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us. The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children. We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside as we wait to be adopted and for our bodies to be set free. We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25, CEB)
The implication for us as humanity was voiced by Paul to the Colossian Church:
Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better. It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.
God loves you and has chosen you as his own special people. So be gentle, kind, humble, meek, and patient. Put up with each other, and forgive anyone who does you wrong, just as Christ has forgiven you. Love is more important than anything else. It is what ties everything completely together.
Each one of you is part of the body of Christ, and you were chosen to live together in peace. So let the peace that comes from Christ control your thoughts. And be grateful. (Colossians 3:10-15, CEV)
The transformation is all-pervasive, thoroughly public, and intimately personal. It is a gift from God; it is the impossible made possible. And it is this precise thing which we acknowledge, celebrate, and long for in the season of Advent. When the angel came to Mary and communicated that Isaiah’s vision was coming to reality through her womb, Mary astonishingly retorted:
“How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
The angel, with supreme confidence, answered Mary as a matter of fact:
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God…. For no word from God will ever fail.”
Mary’s response gives voice to our own desires and longings for the new order of things:
“I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:34-38, NIV)
This is our confession, too. We are the Lord’s servants.
May God’s word to us about the coming of Christ be fulfilled, just as Isaiah said. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Jesus on a starry night so many years ago.
Soli Deo Gloria