“A Green Shoot from a Stump” – 12-08-13 – Advent 2 – Cycle A

Listen to the sermon here:

Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-10; Psalm 27:1-7 and 18-19; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 3:1-12

We struggled to de-throne an old tree in our yard. We actually paid to have it done. Not having enough extra money and time and strength, we left the stump where it was, planning to eventually remove the decaying stump when the job would be easier.

Reminds me of eliminating Satan from our lives – almost. We think we are fine, so we proceed with our lives. Can you guess what has happened to the stump in our yard? Can you guess what happened to Satan in our lives? A shoot appeared. New growth. This stump and Satan certainly have something in common. While we were not watching, Satan returned like a new, green shoot. Satan is like plant life when given half a chance. When spring arrived, we saw the new, green shoot. We left the shoot there because we were busy with other concerns and obligations. We left Satan’s new strength in our lives, growing while our minds were drawn elsewhere. We thought we had taken care of both of these things.

Well, it is obvious we did not clear the decks deeply enough. Before we knew it, the new green shoot had become a slim tree. The problem was that the tree was growing sideways and other green shoots had joined it and became trees each growing slanted. Do you know what happens when the shoots become trunks each growing away from each other? It becomes a weak multiple trunk tree. It looks beautiful but it is probably going to defeat itself, pulling outward instead of inward, instead of being one strong trunk. A hurricane or blizzard could easily have those weak trunks lying on the ground, broken, separated.

And then there is Satan. Left untended, Satan can cause great havoc. In fact, a recovery from a failed attempt to douse Satan permanently tends to result in a stronger damage surge. We have forgotten our daily Bible reading. We have forgotten our daily prayers. If we go to church, we go with heavy hearts instead of glad hearts. Sad!!!

Enter John the Baptist, reminding us of both the green shoot and of Satan’s undying attempts. John the Baptist is saying, “Repent, repent!” Turn around. Gain life from the green shoot. Give evil its due death. Repent! Gain life from the green shoot? We shall gain life? How? Well we are talking about Jesus, the one who was coming, to give people new life. This new life, this baby for whom calendars were changed; this baby person of God come to us to take our sins so that we may have joy and so that we may look forward to eternal life with God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yes, indeed, a new green shoot come from the stump of Jesse.

You may be asking, “Who is Jesse?” Jesse is the son of Obed. Jesse is the grandson of Ruth and Boaz. David is the son of Jesse. So it was Boaz, Obed, Jesse, David; David, the young shepherd who is said to have killed Goliath; David who was anointed by Samuel to be the King after Saul; David who had a son named Solomon. David, beloved of God. From David, twenty-eight generations later, came the shoot called Jesus or Messiah.

Isaiah lived around 700 B.C. David and his father, Jesse, lived around 1000 B.C. Remembering that, in the “before Christ” years, counting is backward. So Isaiah was writing “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse” roughly 300 years after Jesse lived on earth but 700 years before Jesus the Messiah arrived on earth – this green shoot from the stump of Jesse.

This writing of Isaiah has become a classic. Immersed with the green shoot idea is the idea of peace. Let’s listen to this scripture from Isaiah 11:1-10:

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. Isaiah 11:1-10

Did you notice what I just noticed? “The nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” “The nations shall inquire of him …” Oh that every nation in all generations would inquire of Jesus. When will this happen? This green shoot, in the person of Jesus, is working and waiting for the time when the earth will be glorious. The green shoot is working and waiting. Where does that leave us? Are we supposed to just help with the waiting or is there work for us in this whole process? It is interesting to think that this shoot did not become slanted. This shoot is pronto in the middle of the stump. We are welcome to grow beside this Jesus in the same stump but we will be the ones growing slanted in the stump. Slanted until we get rid of Satan pulling us sideways; slanted until we fully submit to the one in the center, Jesus.

Psalm 72:7 & 19 gives us these affirming words to Isaiah’s chapter 11:

In his time may the righteous flourish; and let there be an abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more. And blessed be your glorious name forever, and may all the earth be filled with your glory. Amen and Amen.

John the Baptist is the counterpart to Isaiah. Isaiah prophesied from 700 B.C. John the Baptist, cousin of this Jesus, dressed in wild animal skins, eating wild honey, shouting his message somewhere between 6 B.C. and 0 year in our present calculations, has more tangible evidence of the One for whom he is waiting and about whom he is preaching.

John’s message which we read in Matthew 3:1-12 goes like this: “I am the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, ‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

While John is preaching about this One, the One actually walks by the people who are gathered to hear John’s message. Of course, John who probably never saw Jesus previously, is given the recognition that this is the real One. The one who is coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. Think Pentecost when the flames were given 10 days after Jesus, the One, ascended to the Father and resides there as we speak.

But be awake. Jesus will eventually come to earth again. We are not to be caught sleeping or worse in some unacceptable action. Be ready! Will we recognize Jesus, the One, when he appears? Will Jesus arrive in a blaze of glory or in a quiet, humble way? Maybe even on a donkey because in some ways we are living in the greater Jerusalem as in greater Philadelphia or in a symbolic way since if we are not Jewish, we can claim residency in the general kingdom classification of “Gentile.”

Paul addresses this group of people called Gentiles. Let us hear Paul speaking to the Gentiles, the non-Jews, using passages from the Old Testament:

From 2 Samuel 22:50 and Psalm 18:49, “I will praise you among those who aren’t Jews. I will sing praises to you.”

From Deuteronomy 32:43. You non-Jews, be full of joy. Be joyful together with God’s people.”

From Psalm 117:1, “All you non-Jews, praise the Lord. All you nations, sing praises to him.”

And coming full-circle to Isaiah, from Isaiah 11:10, “The Root of Jesse will grow up quickly. He will rule over the nations. Those who aren’t Jews will put their hope in him.”

Yes, here we have Paul focusing on this shoot as he says, “The Root of Jesse will grow up quickly.” We, as non-Jews, are included in this wonderful cloud, or blanket, of hope and joy. You who are Jews are automatically included. May you claim it with all joy.

We have this great benediction from Paul himself to each of us, “May the God who gives hope fill you with great joy. May you have perfect peace as you trust in him. May the power of the Holy Spirit fill you with hope.” Amen.