“Things Can Only Get Better”
Second Sunday of Advent
December 8, 2013
First Christian Church
When I Daniel and I moved to our house in North Minneapolis back in 2007, there was a large Silver Maple tree in the backyard. This tree was quite fruitful, because we were always getting rid of little saplings that seemed to appear everywhere in our yard. Three years later, we decided to expand our house. We also learned the maple tree was diseased, which meant it was susceptible to falling over. So, we called a service and had the mighty tree taken down.
As I had said earlier, we were doing some remodeling which would include a bathroom and bedroom. We wanted to have hardwood flooring in that room and Daniel came up with an idea. There’s a business in Minneapolis called “Wood From the Hood.” The company specializes in reclaims wood from discarded trees in urban areas an turns them into wood products. In our case, the silver maple was taken and turned into plank upon plank of blonde hardwood that now grace the downstairs bedroom. What was once a diseased tree ripe to fall down, was turned into something useful and beautiful.
We are continuing our journey through the book of Isaiah during Advent and on the concept of waiting. Today’s passage is one of hope. The people of Israel have seen their land divided into two kingdoms. At some point, the Northern Kingdom was overrun and fell to conquering armies. The Southern Kingdom’s days were numbered as the Regional powers in the area rattled their sabres. In the midst of all this, the writer start’s talking about some guy named Jesse. For those who either don’t know or remember, Jesse was the father of David, the great king of Israel. All of the kings of the Southern Kingdom were from the line of Jesse. Some were kings faithful to God, and other, not so much. In the last days of the Southern Kingdom and during exile, there had to be some thought that the royal lineage was gone forever. No more kings.
But the writer tells the audience to not loose hope. He says that life will spring from the stump of Jesse’s tree or family lineage. A shoot will spring up and this bearer of hope will rule with justice. Lions and lambs will sleep together in peace.
The writer was telling the people that even though things look dark, there will come a day when a new Davidic king will arise and rule not only the Israelites, but all the nations with justice.
It’s important to note that there were no more kings of Israel after the fall of both kingdoms. So, what was the writer talking about?
For Jews, the stump might be Hezekiah a king of Judah that instituted a time of righteous reform. But Christians have seen this passage as talking about another ancestor of Jesse, that is Jesus. Out of a lineage that didn’t produce kings anymore, would come a great king, one that would make all the difference in the world.
God has a habit of using things that seem useless for God’s great work in the world. God used a dynasty of a long ago king to bring salvation to all of creation. Jesus would usher in a new kingdom unlike any the world has seen.
As I was preparing this sermon, I kept thinking of stumps, actually one particular stump, this congregation. This an old and established congregation that is nearly 130 years old. If we could walk up to the stump of First Christian St. Paul/Mahtomedi, we would see ring upon ring of history. But we would also feel a bit of sadness because…well, it’s stump. There’s no tree. And it can feel like that all that is left of this congregation is a stump.
But what if God is not done with us? What if there is a green shoot growing from the stump? What if from the big stump, a new plant is growing and over time will grow and grow? In the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve been amazed at how much faith you all have. In many cases, when a church is down to a handful, the tendency is to close. But you didn’t. I don’t know why you didn’t, but if I would hazzard a guess, it would be that you saw a green shoot coming up out of the stump. You saw life where there wasn’t supposed to be any. You had faith that God was doing a good work here and you are waiting to see what God is doing. I know congregations that are larger than you that have just given up.
The birth of Jesus was astounding. The coming King was born when Israel was a backwater of a large empire. He was born to an unmarried woman. And yet, God did wonders.
I want to end with a quote I found this week as i was preparing for this sermon. It’s by Barbara Lundblad a Lutheran theologian. Here it is:
“What if we believe this fragile sign is God’s beginning? Perhaps then we will tend the seedling in our hearts, the place where faith longs to break through the hardness of our disbelief. Do not wait for the tree to be full grown. God comes to us in this Advent time and invites us to move beyond counting the rings of the past. We may still want to sit on the stump for a while, and God will sit with us. But God will also keep nudging us: “Look! Look — there on the stump. Do you see that green shoot growing?””
During this time of year, may God give us the patience to let the little seeds we see in the world grow. And as God’s work grow, may we grow in faith to see God’s mighty deeds. Amen.