Imagine returning to a cherished forest not long after a ravaging fire has destroyed the forest as you knew it. No doubt this piece of land and wood had seen devastating fire before, but this was your forest. What had taken generations to establish was wiped out in hours.
You had hiked here many times, dwarfed by the towering pines, birch, and quaking aspen. Your children came to know these woods as well as you. Now you stand among the stumps, almost in tears. The trails you had taken are gone as is any sign of life. You see black and gray, charred wood and ash. You whisper to yourself, but also as a prayer, “Good Lord, where is all the green?”
Then as you turn to make your way out of the devastation, you see it, as if an immediate answer to prayer – the green. Reaching for the sun from a disfigured, partially burned stump is a stubborn little shoot of a plant. The fire could not have it. It would not die. Your heart races. “Will you look at that!” you say out loud, alone, but not alone. Surrounded by death and destruction, there is hope for the forest.
Every Advent, this scene is replayed in the heart of Christians as Isaiah engages us with his vivid metaphor in Isaiah 11:1:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
In Chapter 10, Isaiah has just prophesied God’s fierce judgment on Israel. Judah, and Assyria. He has added the promise, though, that a remnant would survive all that destruction. From this remnant would come the stubborn little shoot of a plant, the root of Jesse. No matter what, from the line of David (Jesse was David’s father), would come the Messiah.
Since the 11th Century, Biblical illuminations, stained glass, paintings, and carvings have depicted the Jesse tree with Jesse at the bottom and above him the 43 ascending generations of his descendants, ultimately yielding Jesus the Messiah. Those generations saw idolatry, apostasy, judgment, and more judgment, fire and exile, but ultimately surviving it all was that stubborn little shoot of a plant.
It goes that way with us. Our growth as Christians is often accompanied by loss, pain, judgment, tears, and fire. Ultimately, though, the constant through it all is Christ, our life source and our hope. He is the green, the constant, surviving green. So echoing the old “O Antiphons” of the church, we pray and sing:
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell thy people save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
KINDLE Board of Directors