The Advent Collective – 5 December 2020

A daily reflection drawing from Advent Bible passages – to help us grow as we live out our faith in the everyday moments of life.

Welcome to the Advent Collective day 6. One of the big themes of Advent, which appears in the passage that we’re going to read today, is one of waiting.

I’ve been remembering Christmas Days growing up and the agonising wait to open the first present from under the tree. In the Murphy household, this doesn’t happen until after the Queen’s speech at 3in the afternoon, and then sometimes after that Dad would still have to make a coffee, which I now realise doesn’t take very long at all, but at the time it felt much, much longer! It was then a very sweet moment when it was finally time to open the first present, and I do think it was probably all the better for having to wait.

Today’s Bible passageis Isaiah 11:1-16. It’s a passage with some beautiful poetic language, that I think trying to summarise it wouldn’t do it justice, so I’m going to read verses 1-9 in full for us now:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.

He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

In this passage we get a glimpse into the character of Jesus and the kingdom of God that he will bring about – Isaiah prophesies that Jesus will be filled with a spirit of wisdom and understanding, that he will judge and act with justice, that he will be clothed in righteousness and faithfulness. And God’s kingdom will be one of unity, of peace and of harmony, filled with the knowledge and the presence of the Lord. What a beautiful image!

But what’s particularly struck me as I’ve reflected on this passage is where Jesus and this kingdom that’s described, comes from. Verse 1, again, says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”A stump is left after a tree has been cut down, or has fallen, it could be left to rot and decay and yet, out of this, in the passage, comes a shoot, a glimmer of hope. In this case, Jesus’s heritage, the line of Jesse, was broken, and in the previous chapter we see that Assyria has been destroyed, leaving a remnant of God’s people, Israel. But there’s just enough life in the stump for a shoot to find its way through. Out of the hopelessness and despair, springs hope, and life.

Maybe you’re in a season of waiting right now, I think, to an extent, 2020 has been a year of waiting for us all in different ways. Maybe you feel like things have been stripped back and chopped down, and you’re left with something that resembles a tree stump, where the life has been knocked out. This passage is an encouragement to hold onto hope in the waiting and the uncertainty, because we know that something better is coming. Isaiah lived 700 years before Jesus was born – imagine the impatience and despair that people must have felt, wondering if they would ever see this vision of God’s kingdom come to pass – well we get to see the end of the story, and we know that it was worth the wait.

But how do we wait well, how can we be hopeful and patient in the waiting, not rush what God is doing here and now, while we plant our roots and wait for the shoot to spring up?(I’m just going to keep rolling with the plant analogies here!)

I think firstly we need to shift our perspective, and ask God to help us see the bigger picture, to fix our eyes on the hope that we have in him – Psalm 121 says, ‘I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth’. Ask God to lift your eyes up to him and fill you with hope, that only comes from him, today.

And secondly, I’m finding it really helpful at the moment, as much as I can, to appreciate the here and now, to be try and be present in whatever today holds. Psalm 118:24 says, ‘this is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it’. Waiting for the first Christmas present from under the tree was a bit of a trivial example, but, knowing that the time to open presents would definitely come, I hope I didn’t waste all the special moments during the first part of the day. Similarly, as we wait for the breakthrough, as we wait for change to come, whatever you might be waiting for today, let’s not miss what God is doing around us right now, as we hold onto the hope that there’s a better day to come, that, as verse 9 says one day, ‘the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord’.

Jesus, thank you that in you we have hope, I pray, in this time of waiting, that by your spirit you would fill us with your hope ….Amen.