Daily Advent Devotions from Church Street UMC
Sunday, December 20, Morning
By Rev. Catherine Nance
O Come, Thou Root of Jesse’s Tree
Read Isaiah 11:1-10
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 that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
When I am doing pre-marital counseling with couples, part of the conversation is about their respective family trees and what each learns about handed-down roles and expectations. Putting together a Jesse Tree is a wonderful way to learn some of the Old Testament characters as well as Jesus’ family tree. Sunday School teachers discover that fourth graders enjoy reading that first chapter of Matthew as they start with verse 16 and work their way up. How many ‘greats’ do you have to put in front of ‘grandfather’ to know which grandfather Jesse was to Jesus? Great-great-great-great … you can count for yourself. It’s a lot! The fourth stanza of the hymn O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, points us to the lineage of Jesus. “O come, thou Root of Jesse’s tree, an ensign of thy people be; before thee rulers silent fall; all peoples on thy mercy call.”
Most families have the stories and characters that they would prefer to forget, or at least, not bring up at Thanksgiving dinner. The one son or daughter who everyone thought would do great things ended up somewhere else … There are poor decisions, arguments over an inheritance, family secrets that still overshadow and other stories we would rather not talk about. King David, God’s chosen, could not save the kingdom. And yet, we continue to hear about God’s people and the lineage of David. Wasn’t that destroyed? Things will never be the same! Let’s not talk about it!
But Isaiah, like a cousin who doesn’t know any better, brings it up. He doesn’t even refer to “David,” but to the stump of Jesse. The heritage that Jesse, David’s father brings, has been cut down! Nothing left but a stump. Isaiah tells us to look closely. A shoot is growing from that stump and the roots are deep! You can read about Hezekiah in 2 Kings 18 and how he brings hope and peace to God’s people again. Isaiah reminds the people that when God begins a work, when God makes a promise, there is no family story or history too devastating or troubling. God works through all of our stories and in spite of them!
As you read through Isaiah 11, the image of Edward Hicks’ painting Peaceable Kingdom comes to mind. In the midst of divisive times whether it is within the family or within our own country, I turn to Isaiah 11 and remember the stories of exiles returning and even the older story of the exodus (read all of chapter 11). Focusing on God’s images and promise of return, reconciliation, and peace is a helpful image for me this season!
God of Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and John, Ruth and Boaz, we thank you for the genealogies that trace our own histories and stories. Thank you for loving us through the flourishing times and the disappointing times. Thank you for great-great-grandparents and cousins who have shaped who we are. May we keep our hearts open to your desire for us to live in peace and grace. Amen.
Rev. Catherine Nance is the Senior Pastor at Church Street United Methodist Church.