A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious. On that day the Lord will extend his hand yet a second time to recover the remnant that is left of his people, from Assyria, from Egypt, from Pathros, from Ethiopia, from Elam, from Shinar, from Hamath, and from the coastlands of the sea.
Every year, I go into my backyard and cut back the volunteer trees that like to grow up under the chain link fence. I cut each one back to the stump. I have put stump-killer on them and root-rot. Yet, each year I find a new shoot growing up to taunt me.
By the time of Jesus, the line of David had been pretty well cut off. The kings that had come after him had become increasingly corrupt and unfaithful—with very few remaining true to their God. They had drawn the people into unholy arrangements and managed to lead them into exile and occupation. King Herod the Great, the king at the time of Jesus’ birth, was not the rightful heir to the throne. He was an Edomite, a descendent of Esau—not Jacob. He was not of the line of David. The line had been cut off. It was only a stump.
There was a congregation that had decided it was time to blacktop and expand their parking lot. Part of the new lot would include a gravel area that had become a bit weedy. The people putting down the blacktop decided that the heat would kill anything growing, so they didn’t kill the grass and weeds first. True, the grass gave up. But the next spring, the dandelions began poking through the blacktop as if it didn’t exist. Those harbingers of golden frustration to lawn maintenance everywhere became an example of life that refuses to be snuffed out. And they taunted the congregation that thought it would be easy to pave over them.
I wonder—I wonder how it felt to have this shoot of new life come forth to someone like Herod. If we believe Scripture, he didn’t handle it well. He saw the Messiah as a threat to his throne and sought to have him killed. And to make sure he did it right, he had every child in Bethlehem two years old and younger slaughtered. The new shoot taunts those who think they can control the promise of God.
That’s the gift we receive in the promise of the messiah. Though the line of David is a stump; though it feels as if God has forgotten the promise made to Israel and to us; though the darkness of oppression and violence and division seem to have killed off all hope of abundant life—a new shoot rises. A new shoot grows back and refuses to be destroyed. A new shoot from the stump of Jesse grows before us with the fulfillment of God’s promise for redemption and hope and life.
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church