Jesse the Patriarch

Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

Isaiah 11:1-10 

In this season of Advent, we find ourselves in the liminal space between memory and anticipation. We are surrounded by nostalgia and things of the past, even as this season calls us to a waiting, a hoping, and an eagerness for what will come.

For those reasons, the book of Isaiah might just be the perfect place for us to dwell this season. Isaiah is known for encompassing multiple human perspectives or emotions. Isaiah includes lament and hope; sadness and joy. Truth-telling that names both what is and what could be. This is the season where we are faced with reality and possibility.

Tonight, we look at the prophetic words of Isaiah, specifically about a character in scripture named Jesse. We are first introduced to Jesse in the book of Ruth (Jesse is Ruth’s grandson) and later in the books of Samuel. He was a man of humble beginnings; scripture tells us that he was a farmer, a keeper of sheep — a man living a simple life in Bethlehem. Yet, in this simplicity, we find the beauty of God’s choosing, a reminder that God often works through the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary. That which the world might deem meager or unworthy, God deems more than enough.

There are a lot of lessons about family and relationships that we can learn from Jesse, (he had 8 kids, so you can imagine lots of family dynamics) but because it’s Advent, and we’re preparing for the birth of Jesus, and we’re right in the midst of that tension of what is and would could be – I want us to look at a specific prophetic word from Isaiah: Isaiah envisioning a shoot growing from the stump of Jesse.

But what does it mean for him to be a metaphorical stump? A stump seems to be an image of death; of an ending. Of a tree cut down, in all of its glory and strength and might – what could possibly come from a stump?

A few years ago, I read about a tree farm in Massachusetts. They were tiny and their land that was rocky and steep, so they couldn’t farm in conventional ways and instead had to cooperate with land and with what they had.

Typically, on a tree farm, when harvesting a tree and cutting it down, you might then dig up the stump’s roots and plant a new tree in that spot over and over again. But on this farm, as they sought to work with what they had, they learned that they could cultivate the stumps for a new tree to sprout from it. It is an ancient method of woodland management called “kaah-puh-sing.” When the original tree is cut down, the cut is made a little higher up the trunk so that the roots stay alive and then they’re cultivated in order to help grow new trees, right there in the stump. The old trees grow new trees out of their cut wound for generations.

It requires a lot of delicate work on the part of the farmers and we can imagine their whole forest of old tree stumps, giving life to new trees, over and over on this farm.

This ancient practice of “kaah-puh-sing” these trees might be what Isaiah was imagining when he said that a branch would grow from the root of Jesse; it’s an image that is quite honest. An image that recognizes what is and what could be.

The stumps remind us of all that has been cut down and destroyed. Our hopes that have been dashed; our disappointments’ our anxieties or our fears. There may be very raw and present and still warm stumps that you are tending to in your own life this Advent season.

And – the promise we hear from Isaiah, is one we can trust in today as well. Jesse the Patriarch – this stump of ancestry – the one whose son will become king and whose great great great great grandchild will one day be Jesus. This stump helps us to glimpse God’s promise of new life for the world, even in unexpected places – even in death. When our eyes see a forest of desolation, when it feels like everything around us is a crushed dream or a tree sliced off in its prime, the gardener (our Creator) sees and cultivates and creates new life in the midst of that suffering.

This isn’t a platitude of everything being okay or putting a sheen on that which really, really hurts. This is our God, who is always creating, and who promises new life in the birth of Jesus, God dwelling right among us, even today. Amen.

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