Shoot from stumps (sermon for Advent 2 A)
Second Sunday of Advent: December 9, 2007
Matthew 3:1-12; Romans 15:4-13; Isaiah 11:1-10 Psalm 72:1-7,18-19
The sermon: I want to show you something about God that is built into creation. Towering over my house is a massive old silver maple.
If you look closer (below left), you’ll see something remarkable:
Where it used to be a thick, strong, single stub, it’s now covered with new growth. In fact, the more you look at this tree, the more you see this has happened all over it.
We like big, strong trees, and Leroy tells me this isn’t a particularly good thing if you want trees like that. But regenerative growth like this is so built-in to the universe, that for centuries entire industries came from it. In fact, this industry was so important that it had its own words. Entire groves of trees were cut off at the ground, and what was left was called coppice stools. They would grow, like this (right):
These are history reenactors in England who are conducting coppice harvest. Now why would you harvest coppice wood?
When more was made of wood than is today, there were two ways to get it: chop down a large tree and spend days of heavy labor sawing or riving it up, or, if you needed smaller pieces, just grow them like that. And you could use your trees over and over, for you could always regenerate the coppice.
This principle—that shoots would come from stumps—was so important, and so reliable, that people’s livelihood depended on it.
What’s this have to do with Advent? Now we’re ready to understand something Isaiah said about the Messiah’s coming:
A Green Shoot from Jesse’s Stump
1-5 A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch.
What might this mean? Jesse, of course, is the father of David, the ancestor of Jesus. And the stump represents the hopelessness of 8th-century B.C. Hebrew life. The nation was destroyed, its people utterly hopeless. Isaiah insists that there’s reason for hope in the face of hopelessness.
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him,
the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength,
the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.
will be all his joy and delight.
Now the New Testament suggests this “sprout” to be Jesus, and asks us to take Jesus as our example. – let’s see what kind of example this new shoot will set for his people:
He won’t judge by appearances,
won’t decide on the basis of hearsay.
He’ll judge the needy by what is right,
render decisions on earth’s poor with justice.
His words will bring everyone to awed attention.
A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked.
Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots,
and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.
Going about his business, building r and f., justice for the poor, right for the needy.
Let’s see what else happens:
A Living Knowledge of God
6-9The wolf will romp with the lamb,
the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,
their calves and cubs grow up together,
and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.
10On that day, Jesse’s Root will be raised high, posted as a rallying banner for the peoples. The nations will all come to him. His headquarters will be glorious.
What’s it say about fear?
Even if it was written in Scripture long ago, you can be sure it’s written for us. God wants the combination of his steady, constant calling and warm, personal counsel in Scripture to come to characterize us, keeping us alert for whatever he will do next. May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir—not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus!
So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory. Jesus did it; now you do it! Jesus, staying true to God’s purposes, reached out in a special way to the Jewish insiders so that the old ancestral promises would come true for them. As a result, the non-Jewish outsiders have been able to experience mercy and to show appreciation to God. Just think of all the Scriptures that will come true in what we do! For instance:
Then I’ll join outsiders in a hymn-sing;
I’ll sing to your name!
And this one:
Outsiders and insiders, rejoice together!
People of all nations, celebrate God!
All colors and races, give hearty praise!
And Isaiah’s word:
There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse,
breaking through the earth and growing tree tall,
Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!
Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy, fill you up with peace, so that your believing lives, filled with the life-giving energy of the Holy Spirit, will brim over with hope!
One last reading:
Thunder in the Desert!
1-2 While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
3John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
4-6John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.
7-10When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! [this must’ve been outrageous:] And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.
11-12″I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
A real kingdom life within you.
Another kind of wilderness. This one in Santa Barbara, a soup kitchen where I worked for four years, housed in my church’s parish hall. We made the soup out of discarded vegetables given to us by the produce manager of a local Vons grocery store. On this salvage, we fed up to 250 people a day.
In the kitchen we had only one rule: if you were obnoxious you had to go outside. We fed people with mental illness, prostitutes, the working poor, alcoholics, men and women on fixed incomes, and homeless teenagers on their way through town. Everyone was welcome.
Once a lovely woman dressed in a Kelly green cardigan and slacks, a “presentable” person, came to eat lunch. She started talking to a volunteer from the Latter Day Saints about how she couldn’t eat because someone was pointing at her head. Jackie, our volunteer, said to her very gently, “If you sit down for awhile, I’ll watch out for anyone pointing at your head. I’ll be right here, rinsing trays.”
The woman sat down and began to eat. She ate for a few minutes. Then she reached down to pick up something off the floor. When she straightened up, she said, “Someone pointed at my head while I was leaning over. Someone pointed at my head.”
Jackie walked over to her and touched her very carefully on the arm and said, “I’ll make sure they don’t do that again.”
The woman smiled. Then she said, “I’m not always like this.”
Jackie replied, “I know.”
-And that peaceable kingdom where all God’s creatures live together in perfect harmony? Not yet, to be sure, for this kingdom promises nothing less than a reversal of the curse of Eden’s fall, putting an end even to the enmity between the human and the serpent (Genesis 3:15; cf. Isaiah 11:8). Such a possibility will come only beyond history as we know it, but we anticipate it now in faith because it is God’s own promise. Though looking to the future, it had a present effect in the eighth century and can have one today as well.
What if we chose to live now in the freedom of the promise, in accord with its pictures of God’s future kingdom? God keeps showing us a world of peace where rulers and people care for one another, for the poor and the needy, for the creation and all its creatures. What if we moved into that world even now?
True, our world remains compromised and dangerous, and we will have to deal with that in appropriate ways. But, to the degree we are given the courage, we can invite God’s future into the present and practice it even now.
And then the world of nature, red in tooth and claw-though it remains real-can be tempered by a new vision of a creation that sings God’s praise because all are fed and all are loved. – Working Preacher
The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson
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