On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. (Is 11:1)
“On that day” I began pondering a line in scripture. I was hiking around the Lake Shore Trail at Lake Norman State Park. I passed the remnant of a tree in the final stages of being reclaimed by nature. In the middle of this dead stump was a hint of green new life. Against all odds, a little holly tree had sprouted.
I called to mind Isaiah’s prophecy, “On that day, a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.” It’s a favorite Advent passage. Christians see its fulfillment in the birth of Jesus.
In historical context, Jesse (the stump) was the father of King David (the shoot), the greatest king in the history of the Jewish people. During his reign, David united the various tribes of Israel and brought peace and prosperity to the land. After David’s death, however, it didn’t take many generations for the people to revert to corruption and war. The result was centuries of exile, captivity, and occupation. The Jewish people longed for the restoration of this once-great kingdom. They longed for a new King David. The shoot would be the one that would continue this legacy.
The early Christians looked back upon this prophecy and recognized Jesus as the ‘shoot’, the new King that would restore peace and prosperity to those in captivity.
As I grow older, I do a little more ‘looking back’ as the early Christians did. Unfortunately, I see many ‘stumps’ in my life, remnants of days gone by. These include my past career as a ‘captain of industry’ (my son’s term for being a General Manager for a large steel company), my identity as a father of young children, my mission of providing for a growing family, my status in the community, and my activities with various non-profits. These were once flourishing trees, but like the old stump in the picture, they are now slowly succumbing to the march of time.
But “on that day”, I looked at the stump anew. Rather than ruing the days gone by, I saw hope. In so many words, Isaiah was telling people, “Stop looking at the stump! It’s dead. Focus on the ‘shoot’. Focus on what God is doing here and now. Focus on how God is fulfilling the promises for the future.”
From the stumps in our lives, new life sprouts. If we’re hyper-focused on the past, we miss the miracle taking place in the present. We miss the invitation for growth. We miss the ways God has planned for us to bring beauty and life into the present out of the death of the past.
My old career is gone, but I have a new career as the director of a retreat center, a highly improbable re-routing of the trajectory of my life. My past vocation as an engineer and GM is gone, but I am finding a new vocation as a retreat leader and spiritual director. I have a new identity as a grandfather. God is good, surprisingly so.
I’m also finding that though the stumps are dead, they still contain a wealth of experience – nutrients I can share with the new shoots striving to prosper.
As holiday blues begin to set in and the days grow darker, it is easy to look at the stumps of our life – and sigh. Advent, however, is a season of hope. What’s more hopeful than new life sprouting from something that has died?
Spend a few moments looking for those ‘shoots’ that are trying to sprout from the stumps of your life. God beckons you to open your eyes. “See, I am doing something new. Now it springs up. Do you not perceive it?” (Is 43:19)