There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. - Isaiah 11:1, ESV
The Shoot from the Stump of Jesse
When is dead really dead? Some hard-core Marvel fans were upset when Agent Coulson was brought back from the dead to lead the team on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., feeling that it cheapened his death scene in Avengers. Some Star Wars fans (including me) likewise felt "cheated" when Darth Maul re-appeared alive in The Clone Wars after Obi-Wan cut him in two. These moves prompted some to ask, "How will we ever know if a character is truly dead?"
Sometimes everything looks over. Sometimes things look as finished as they can be, but they're not. In 586 BC, Jerusalem was leveled, the Temple completely destroyed, and all the inhabitants taken into exile. The dynasty of King David, the Son of Jesse, had ended after over 400 years on the throne. The family tree which had reigned so long was chopped down, destroyed. God had promised forever, an eternal kingship, but it looked as if His promises had failed.
Not so fast: 150 years earlier, the prophet Isaiah had foretold the destruction. He envisioned a time when Jesse's Tree would be a stump. God was not surprised by 586 BC. He had planned it. It was His work of judgment and discipline.
After the return to the Promised Land under Persian King Cyrus, many began to reflect more carefully on Isaiah's words, then 200 years old. They began to wonder if the time had come for the shoot to sprout. Some looked to Zerubbabel as the fulfillment of Isaiah 11:1, but he would not be. Instead, Zerubbabel would be used by God to point beyond himself to One who was yet to come, One whose coming was certain but still hundreds of years away.
The longer a stump sits idle, the more unlikely it seems that life would ever sprout forth. But God's promises only become more certain with the passing of time, for each passing day brings us closer to their fulfillment. So, after the stump sat dry and barren for almost 600 years, the smallest green shoot appeared, in a manger in Bethlehem. 14 generations after the Babylonian Exile had chopped down the Jesse Tree, life and hope come forth in the fulfillment of God's promise.
Our Advent lesson for today? For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed - Romans 13:11, ESV
Heavenly Father, we are closer now to our final salvation in Jesus than we ever have been. Your promises never fail. You sent Your Son, You brought us to faith in Him, and You will surely bring us home with Him when He comes again! Give us the persevering faith to cherish Your promises and to press on toward that coming day! In Jesus' name, Amen.