December 10, 2023. Sermon Title: A Child Will Lead: Can You Believe It?

First Mennonite Church

December 10, 2023

A Child Will Lead; Can You Believe It!

Text: Isaiah 11:1-10

We are in once again, that is, in the season of the presidential race.  People who want to be leaders are offering their best arguments and backing them up with whatsoever accomplishments they can show. As for you, what kind of leader would you prefer? One who shows strength or compassion, toughness or tenderness, intellectual prowess or empathizing intelligence?  Does age matter, or gender, or upbringing, or church membership?  Will a person’s piety make a difference to you, or will you focus on political savvy?  What are you looking for in a leader?  Now let us compare that to what kind of leader God sent through the Branch of Jesse.

Isaiah’s words relate to a time far ahead in Judah’s future. It relates to a time when David’s lineage, monarchy, and glorious past would be just a dead stump in history. Although scholars have difficulty pinpointing the exact time Isaiah pronounced these words, the fact was, however, that there was still a sitting king in Jerusalem at that time. Was it Hezekiah or was it Josiah? Therefore, Isaiah’s words here are an indirect warning to the king. The kingdom will come to an end, becoming simply like a dead stump. 

The passage opens with a promise. From a dead stump, signs of new life will come forth. The shoot or branch coming forth from this stump would be proof that God still has something in his sleeves. And it is not just a bubbly finale, but the glorious beginning of a cosmic make-over by God. By referring to the shoot as coming from the stump of Jesse, the branch certainly points to David-like figure. King David was the quintessential and legendary royal figure for Israel. His humble origins, his trust in God, his diplomacy to unify the tribes and to establish peace treaties, and his military prowess earned him Israel’s love and admiration. However, much of David’s accomplishments did not last much. The unity of the tribes did not survive for too long. The kingdom was divided in two: the Northern Kingdom, called Israel and the Southern Kingdom called Judah. Peace was replaced by wars from within and from without. David’s son Absalom wanted to usurp the throne while David was still king. Corruption plagued, both the monarchic and religious institutions. And the glory of Israel was replaced by shame, despair, and finally exile.

The leader in Isaiah’s prophecy will be even greater than David, however. The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon this new shoot from Jesse’s stump and will endow this leader with three pairs of gifts.

 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.

This leader will establish God’s rule on earth. He will not make decisions based on mere appearance nor will he rely on hearsay. With righteousness, he will judge the needy and give justice to the poor of the earth. With the word of his mouth, He will punish wickedness. We should remember, in the Bible, God always has a preference for the poor, the outcast, and the downtrodden. That is because, in the context of Israel, the poor were the result of social and economic injustices committed by those in power or the wealthy. The prophet Micah, a contemporary of the Isaiah, says:

Woe to those who plan iniquity,
    to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning’s light they carry it out
    because it is in their power to do it.
They covet fields and seize them,
    and houses, and take them.
They defraud people of their homes,
    they rob them of their inheritance.

But the leader or king promised by God will correct the wrong by punishing the wicked.

As admirable as these characteristics are about a leader, in today’s world they might not be good news to everyone. God’s preference for the poor and needy might seem too left-leaning and God’s punishment to the wicked too arbitrary or too dangerous to the entrepreneurial spirit. Yet, that is what the shoot from Jesse’s stump will bring.  

Along with God’s ushering of this God-fearing leader is the ushering of a thorough transformation of creation. This total transformation will not only be between animal and animal, but also between animals and humans. Predator and prey will live together. The wolf and the lamb, the leopard, and the kid, and the calf with the lion will be together.  A little child will shepherd them where they all will eat hay. The infant child will even play close to venomous snakes. In this nonviolent environment, humans and animals will dwell without fear and complete peace. A child shepherding both predators and prey describes a pastoral scene of God’s paradise.    

Anyone who reads this passage cannot help but see in it the promise of something that is the deep yearning of the human heart. We yearn for a world in which the people’s leaders take care of the least and weak. We yearn for a leader who is fair and who doesn’t sell him/herself to the highest bidder.

This passage can also speak to our congregation. What could be an impossible thing to happen to us? What in our congregation might seem like a dead stump in a barren ground, which seems impossible to change? Is it growth? Is it renewal and revival? Let us hold fast to Jesus’ words who said that the gates of hell will not prevail against his church. We are his handiwork; let us allow him to fashion us, to use us, as we seek to be conformed into his likeness.

At a personal level, where in your life are you losing hope? It could be that loss and despair are making your heart into a stump.  It could be that you were told you would not add up much in life and such destructive words made your soul a dead stump. It could be unanswered prayers are causing you to lose hope if you will ever receive the deepest desire of your heart. It could be that you now only sit on the stump of what used to be a beautiful life. God is reminding us that he not only sits with us on our stumps but is saying to us, “See, a new shoot is coming.”

As we approach Christmas and give thanks to God for the gift of his Son, let us bring to our hearts the reminder that Jesus is God’s light which dissipates all darkness. Jesus is the life of the world; thus, he is the one who revives our hopes and the one who gives us life abundant.

Our passage ends: 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.

My dear sisters and brothers, the child born on Christmas Eve is the one who holds all power both on earth and in heaven. The world in Isaiah’s vision is still pending. It is at the second coming of Christ that peace will be established, not only among men but in all of creation. It is at his coming that justice will be established and all who suffered injustices will be vindicated and the wicked will be judged. Waiting for this day is an Advent not only before Christmas but throughout our earthly pilgrimage. Amen!

Pastor Romero