Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Hope This Christmas: When You Need Life to Spring Out Of What Has Been Severed

 This is our first Christmas in our current home. There's always something near magical about decorating a home for it's first Christmas. Finding a place for the nativity and the candy bowl, and of course-the tree. 

Last year, while we were still up to our necks in transition we had a 2 foot little table top tree in our little rental home. 

Anyone out there have a strong-willed, high-expectation kid? 
Anyone ever tried to wow that kid with a two foot Christmas tree? 

Yea, I wouldn't suggest it. 

We tried to pack in lessons of contentment and inspirations to simplify Christmas, all to keep that bless-ed child from tearing down that mini tree each and every morning. 

We succeeded but...just barely.

So when we bought our home in February, that same darling son of mine, marches into the living room, like he was a conquistador claiming the land. And I watch his big doe eyes survey the room and then lift to the ceilings.

And it's that moment, when you are reading that sweet-first-borns mind with amazing clarity, that you realize the apple didn't fall far from the Christmas tree.

From that day on he began planning that because of his patience with that stump of a tree from last year, that this year we would get a giant of a tree and place it smack in the middle of the living room, so it could reach to the top of the vaulted ceiling. We were thankful that we had TEN months to  smash gently lower his hopes.

But don't we all love the Christmas tree? As we bring the timber into our homes, decorating it with sweet memories, and place precious gifts beneath it,  it often becomes the front and center of our December decor.

This year, I have been studying Advent for the first time. I have learned that Advent is about tracing Jesus’ family tree. I imagine that I am climbing down from the top of Jesus'  family tree and seeing him and his plan to rescue us in stories throughout the entire Bible.

Well, 700 years before Jesus’ first birthday, in the dark years of the Old Testament is yet another Christmas tree.  And it's this forgotten Christmas tree; I have read right over it and missed the rich Christmas lesson that it holds.  We could more accurately call it our Advent tree. In fact if you are a pinterest addict like some of us, you have probably seen it dotting your home page. It's called the Jesse tree.

Isaiah 11, verse 1 and 2 says:
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

Isn't that the most obscure verse? At first, that does nothing for my Christmas appetite. But as I have studied it this past month, it has now become the front and center of my December. 

So here's the context, with some strong help from John Piper

Isaiah is a prophet, he was God's mouthpiece during years of rebellion. He is warning them, that because of their hardened hearts, they were going to be taken over by their enemies, Assyria.

Right before this, at the end of Isaiah 10, God paints this image. And honestly, at first, it's devastating.  He says he is going to lop off the branches with a terrible crash, those who are tall in stature will be cut down and those who are lofty will be based. He will cut down the thickets of the forest with an iron axe.

God's people, the Israelites, were this abundant forest, standing tall and lofty, full and green. But because they didn’t want anything to do with him and invitations to return to him, God sent the Assyrians as an axe to cut them down.  

Can you imagine this scene? A forest of evergreens (to keep the Christmas theme) once full and flourishing, now decimated. Picture a forest of pine trees, acres upon acres, cleared down to the stumps. 

But with the new chapter comes the promise:
"There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse."

And if you were God's people in that year, hearing this prophecy from Isaiah, you would understand that God is reminding you that his promises remain true.

No matter where their cold hearts led them, no matter what their enemies were cutting off, God's promises remain true. 

God had promised to put a Messiah, a forever king, on the throne from David's line.  This is a Messianic prophecy, a Christmas promise, a promise to rescue.

And then Isaiah goes on to say that from this branch will come fruit.  From this unassuming branch, this sprout of an Advent tree, will be fruit.

Can you picture yourself walking through this flattened forest with me? There's just stump after stump after stump. And our feet are mazing their way through the residual, tripping over depressing reminders of what once was. 

Maybe these stumps would speak of something painfully familiar to you. Maybe our tears would fall together, as we relate that some years leave us pretty lifeless. Some seasons flatten us. Some years God just seems to cut us back, pruning us down till we aren't sure if there is any viable life within us. Whether it's from the discipline of the Lord or the harshness of our enemies I think we have all felt like life can be hopeless.

As our cold feet slow, and we shiver, our eyes surveying the bleak view, maybe then something would catch our eye. Something small, but vibrant, a couple yards away. Maybe we would link arms for balance and get there in a hurry.  As we come close together we see that it's a shoot, coming up out of a stump. It's meager, but as we lean in we can't deny that it is very much alive. It's a branch, coming right out of this stub. 

At that moment, our tears would change. The coldness of our anguish would begin to warm, from our insides out. 

Because this moment begins our Advent. 

This little sprig is our Christmas promise. 

Our Christmas starts with hope.  We have a forever king, from Jesse, the father of David.  That is this shoot, and we are invited to put our hope in Him. As we accept the invitation to wait for this promise with expectancy, we realize that it's not just wishful thinking. It's about confidence in this baby Jesus, this shoot. 

As we approach another Christmas, we remember the hope of the first 3/4 of the Bible, the hundreds of promises that a Rescuer would come for God's people. And then we hope for the 2nd advent, when Jesus will come again. What was it like to wait for that baby? And what will it be like when we can say "the root of David has triumphed!" (Revelation 5:5)

But!  We also find hope for today. This day in the middle of December, in the middle of the heartland, in the middle of whatever routine or crisis or heartache you are in.

Christmas has to start with hope. Friends, hope with me.

Hopes believes that God’s promises will show true. 
Hope knows that life can comes out of stumps. 
Hope anticipates rescue. 
Hope looks for Jesus to spring out of what has been severed.

Could we eagerly await for God to enter into our mess and make it new?
Could we hope for new growth in this next year? 

Our Christmas has to begin with vulnerable life shooting up like a thrill of hope. Hope gives us expectant hearts that the Jesus who shot out of the darkness as a great light, has come for us again today. 

As we see our own hearts in these stumps, we could so easily fall into bitterness that life lacerates, or anger that God would cut us back or remove what once was, or we could find ourselves stuck, unable to move, unable to believe again, like an old stump in frozen December ground. Hopelessness is always a temptation when we are waiting for something, or someone, for some change.

But what if we saw our stumps as an invitation to await Jesus’ coming near? Could this season of Advent pause, these weeks of growing anticipation, could it help us see the Gospel in this cut down Christmas? 

Could it be that it was cleft-split right open- for me, for you. This cleft on this stump, this splitting open of a lifeless situation, means life and hope for you and me. Seven hundred years after this Jesse tree and this shoot, this Christmas baby, would stretch out on a cross made of trees, and be cleft for us. His love for me, and for you, would lead him to be split apart as our sacrifice. And this hope, oh this hope is the sure anchor of our soul.

It seems so risky, to hope in this vulnerable little tender, shoot or a little helpless baby. But hope does not disappoint

Maybe December is the pinnacle of a strong year of blessing for you, of relative ease. But could you look around you, could you find who sees only the stumps? As we pray for open eyes to see Jesus this Advent, could we also pray to see the hurting near us? Look around, who can you lead to this shoot of hope?

Is there a friend, or a family, or a stranger, who needs you to enter into their mess, like Jesus did for us by being born in the manure filled cave?

My sister was cut down to the stump six quick months ago, when her baby boy went breathless and joined glory. How do you stand tall when life flattens you like that? 

And now she is battling a new, chronic gastrointestinal diagnosis, leaving her flat out on a hospital bed for weeks. 

My current season is one of catching gifts and provisions from this Advent tree. Our year has been full of merriment and hopes coming to fruition. But if I don't see the hurting, the cut back, right now, than I have missed the gift of hope. 

If I don't go near the hurting, the empty-armed, the near-hopeless, than I have missed Christmas this year. 

We must help the weary world rejoice, even through their tears, as we take their hand and lead them to the thrill of hope. 

Let's slow our Christmas, our Advent, enough to see the friend who can't see anything but stumps. Let's pause long enough to hope for someone else, to come near to them as Jesus did to us. To whisper to them about the hope that is theirs. 

1 comment:

  1. Your entries always leave me without words and in tears. Tears with meaning and appreciation though. You write beautifully.