There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
     and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
(Isaiah 11:1)

Think for a moment about your most helpless situation in life. You probably felt like God had forgotten about you or, worse, that he never cared in the first place. God’s people in the Old Testament were well acquainted with this feeling and it made them long for Messiah even more.

It’s hard to determine when Israel’s anticipation for Messiah reached its height. Year after year after year, it seemed that God’s kingdom would never fully come as promised. Kings died, the people worshiped idols, and Israel was at odds with the nations around them. Finally, because of their unrepentant sin, Judah, the southern kingdom, saw their worst nightmare come true: exile. (Israel, the northern kingdom, was exiled to Assyria more than a hundred years prior.) The hope of a God’s kingdom on earth seemed all but lost when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and took Judah’s survivors as prisoners of war.

Isaiah promised that exile was coming a century before it happened. God’s beloved people, whom he had planted, cultivated, and grown tall and strong, would be cut down to a stump. Stumps bear no fruit, provide no shade. They are useless (unless you need a chair). How could this be? Didn’t God see? Didn’t he care?

In the midst of judgement, however, there was hope. From that seemingly hopeless stump “a shoot” would arise from Jesse, the father of King David. The descendants from David’s line failed as kings. They, along with the kingdom, were cut down. But God remembered his promise, the promise he made to David that not all would be cut off. There would be one. One branch of the family tree would survive and he would rule over a kingdom that would never end. This One is Jesus.

When it seemed that there was nothing but the stench of death and the darkness of despair, God intervened: he made a glorious flower bloom from a stump.  As the old carol goes, “This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere.”

Scripture and Reflection Questions
Read Isaiah 11:1-16 and Jeremiah 23:1-8

  1. What seemingly hopeless situation are you in now?
  2. If Christ has brought you ultimate redemption from sin and death, how can you trust him to lead you through the seemingly hopeless situation(s) you are enduring now?
  3. Read Isaiah 11:1-9. What parts of this did Jesus fulfill in his life on earth? What parts still need a complete fulfillment?
  4. Read Jeremiah 23:6. What does it mean that the Jesus’ name is “the LORD is our righteousness”? What does that mean for you today?

From We Look for Light: Readings and Reflections for Advent

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