First Mennonite Church
December 2, 2018
Advent: A Seedling of Hope
Text: Isaiah 11:1-10
Have you heard about “Seasonal Affective Disorder?” This is the official name given to the condition of the change in mood or spirit affecting people due to the shortening daylight time in December and January. For many people, winter is a stressful time of the year. For some, leaving home when it is still dark and returning home when it’s dark again, increase their anxiety and fear levels. Some others have a hard time sleeping well at night and have difficulty focusing well during the day. Some are easy to get irritated or go through periods of unexplained mood changes. For many, the rain or cold only exacerbates their aches and pains.
I do not know if it happens to you, but to me it seems as if the transition from longer daylight time days to shorter daylight time days happens so fast. At home we usually eat dinner when the girls come back from school—around 5:30 P.M. Just some weeks ago, we ate dinner while the sun was up in the sky. These days, it is already dark when we arrive home at 5:15 P.M.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, we all suffer from it in some form or some time. Who can be optimistic when there is darkness of some kind? Who can keep hope when the ground is bone-dry and everything around scorched by the sun? Who can hope when all that is left of a beautiful and vibrant tree is a decaying stump?
A decaying stump was all that was left to Israel. During Israel’s time in exile and even after it returned to its homeland, waste and devastation were all around. The great kingdom under David, Solomon and the other kings was only a thing of a distant memory. A dark cloud of hopelessness hung over the whole land. But then, a word from God came. It was a word of hope, a word announcing renewal, a sort of resurrection. There was a seedling of hope. It was a defiant shoot, breaking through the hard-rock soil out of a dead, decaying stump. The shoot, although fragile and small, its power did not wholly depend on the ground from which it was coming. God’s Spirit would alight on it. Wisdom and understanding would enlighten it as it grew to achieve its purpose. And in return, the fear of the Lord would be its guide.
Obvious in this imagery is that Isaiah was not speaking of a literal shoot or sprout. Isaiah was speaking about someone who God would raise from the debris and crumbling ruins of Israel’s heritage. But unlike the great king David who was a murderer, a liar, and an adulterer, this new king will would do justice, especially to the poor and weak. This new King would not abuse of his power as did David who illicitly took Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed in order to cover up his adultery. This new King would wear justice and faithfulness as a belt around his loins. And unlike Solomon, who although he was wise as none other before him, this new King Child would be endowed with wisdom and understanding of the Lord. The spirit of counsel and might would rest upon him and the fear of the Lord would dwell in him.
Hope beyond imagination
Isaiah’s prophecy was one of hope beyond imagination. The sign of hope was not limited to the rise of a new king, vested with divine wisdom and grace. The sign of hope included something beyond imagination, the abolishment of violence. In other words, this hope was one announcing the establishment of true peace. God’s shalom would rise and fill the earth when justice was executed. The poor and the weak would no longer suffer abuse. And evil doers would be judged and removed. Nature too would be restored to an edenic harmony.
Danger and fear would also be unknown.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.
Isaiah’s words describe a world that is hard to believe is possible. Wolves feed on lambs. Leopards kill kids (young goats.) Bears would prefer meat than grass for food. And children learn that snakes and vipers are not toys to play with. And we are fully aware that the coming of Jesus the Messiah did not usher in a world as described by Isaiah, literally. In the world of today like the world of Isaiah animals of prey continue to hunt and kill. In today’s world like the world of Isaiah the poor and the weak continue to be the victims of injustice and oppression. Today there are more poor people amid the growing wealth of a few. Fear and danger continue to keep their grip in our towns and cities. It seems as if today, more than ever, we are still sitting on the stump of human history, despite the promises of the Enlightenment or of modern technology or the advancement of medicine. There is an increasing moral bankruptcy and an ever increasing inequality. Illnesses, violence, injustice, inequality and death continue to claim lives. It could also be that the stump we are sitting on is more personal.
On what stump are you sitting today? Is it the stump of what used to be a robust health? The stump of a strong and indissoluble relationship of a friend or relative, if not even your own? Of a vibrant and fervent spiritual life? Of the high hopes of enjoying life after retirement? The great dreams you had for your family, children, or parents? Of high hopes for church growth? You know your heart and you can add that to this list. But the truth is, we have at some point in time sat on a decaying stump or are sitting on one today. But the greater truth is that Advent renews our ability to hope.
Advent means the “coming” and particularly the coming of Jesus at his birth. Advent is the hope that something new is going to happen. The passage in Isaiah is an invitation for us to dream of a better future and a better world. The words in Isaiah remind us that there is a seedling of hope in our heart, not because you are or I am resilient, but because God has not abandoned us. There is hope because, as we proclaim, Christmas is a reminder of the Emmanuel—God is with us. God wants us to see that out of that dried ground and decaying stump, a new shoot is coming. It is coming, not on its own, but at the command of God. The new life coming up even seems as a resurrection of the dead tree. And that is the promise we have.
Revelation 21, which we read today, is an invitation to us to see that God is still at work. He will bring to fulfillment his great project of the renewal one day. God is not done yet and we continue to hope and wait. The words of Isaiah and Revelations remind us that we are living in the in-between time. We are living between promise and fulfillment. Yet, as we wait for the fulfillment, we do not despair, because as Paul says, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).
My dear brothers and sisters, let us fasten our hope in God who has the power to bring new life, new life in our relationship with him, new life in our interpersonal relationships, new life in the lives of our loved ones, and renewed hope in living and dying with Christ. My beloved brothers and sisters, the birth of Christ into the world and in our hearts is the seedling of hope we have. And therefore, even when the world has lost its ability to hope, because every promise made by humans has proven untrue, we can hope because Christ Jesus is the Truth. Even when fear and death continue prowling and devouring, we have a seedling of hope because Christ Jesus is the Life and Resurrection. Even when the world continues to stumble in the dark and has lost its way, we have in our heart a seedling of hope because Jesus Christ is the Light and the Way. This Advent season, let us dream the dreams of God for the world, that it may experience God’s peace, truth, love, and justice. Let us pray that God would open the eyes of the world to see Jesus as the true Seedling of hope he is giving everyone. Amen!