A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
Have you ever felt like a part of you has died? Do you look around you at the world and all you see is death and decay? You are not the only one. We are about to enter the liturgical season of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is the more upbeat of the two seasons for penitence (the other being Lent). Both are periods of reflection and heart-searching. Seasons to take extra time to ask the Spirit to identify areas of darkness within us so that we may receive the Light of Christ and rejoice all the more on its culminating holiday. A time set aside to come face to face with our need for a Savior. Christmas is the celebration of Emmanuel, God with us. Advent is a time to explore the parts of our lives and world where we feel God’s absence as we wait for Him to be present.
Advent arises from the experience of the Jews as they waited for over 400 years during the interim between hearing God through the prophets, and then hearing nothing until the birth of Christ. The Old Testament ends on a note of dissonance. The Israelites are led back into Israel from their exile in Babylon, and begin the rebuilding process. They rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and consecrate it for worship, but God’s presence does not return. They remain faithful and worship through many ups and downs, but something is missing. This continues for four centuries of silence…of seeming absence. Thankfully we know the end of the story and the coming of a Messiah that would change everything once and for all. A Messiah who did not disappoint even the highest hopes of His people. It is this realized hope that gives us the courage to face and confront the things in our lives that are not as they should be. Our areas of dissonance where something is still missing.
This year it is easy to see the darkness and sense of absence. Violent conflicts and attacks seem rampant around the world. Our country often feels more divided than ever as we struggle to understand each other. With every new allegation of sexual misconduct, our trust in one another is further diminished. There are also countless personal challenges that we each face, some known only to us. There may be rifts in relationships, financial anxiety and a cycle of debt, loneliness, depression, patterns of sin. We each likely have at least one area of life that feels desolate and cut off. Areas that feel empty or even dead.
Advent allows us to be honest about these places of decay and the temptation to hopelessness. Isaiah 11:1 depicts Israel’s feeling of being a stump, a people cut off from growth and flourishing. A stump is not the picture of a bright future. But the kind of Messiah we know and anticipate can bring life from death. There is no area of the creation too lifeless for the power of God’s presence to revive. Just as the Israelites waited in 400 years of silence and received a Savior beyond their highest hopes, so we wait for Christ to continue to restore all areas of His creation. No matter how lifeless something may seem, new life can yet spring.
What would it look like for you to take the next four weeks to name the places that need revitalization in and around you? Where do you need Jesus to breathe new life into your numb or shattered heart? Where has hope become dim for you to the point that it is hard to imagine things ever getting better? Where do you need Jesus to break cycles of pain and fear in your life and in our culture? Where are you still waiting for Jesus to show up? This Advent, bring the most hopeless parts of your life and experience to Christ and ask Him to make Himself known in a way that you could never anticipate. What are you waiting for?
“O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”