“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Isiaiah 11:1
No one will ever mistake me for a gardener. I wish I was one of those people who could make a lawn look spectacular or landscape my backyard, or even keep a peace lily from drooping; but, alas, my gifts are elsewhere. So whenever metaphors and symbols from our tradition begin to move into the more agrarian, I’m always equal parts hopeful and wistful. The prophet Isiaiah, like many who tell the story of God in the world, uses a lot of agricultural/horticultural images to make a point. A shoot out of a stump is a great image for new life out of something that has been cut down and left dormant, so this particular passage from the second Sunday in Advent has resonance for me as we walk through the season together.
Because I am not adept at keeping plants alive, a passage that says that new growth comes from the deadest stump we can imagine is full of hope in the midst of axes and clear-cut forests. Now, not to be overly optimistic, but I see the story of sprouts out of seemingly dead wood as good news for those of us who struggle in the proverbial fields around us.
Once again, the church is calling us to pay attention to the tension that exists between stumps and shoots. A stump seems pretty dead to me, but Isiaiah says otherwise. “Life finds a way,” to quote Dr. Ian Malcom from
. On this first Sunday in Advent we will begin the journey of exploring light in the darkness and those things that somehow don’t seem to go together. Those places where life pops up out of nowhere… even when we think it couldn’t possibly.
This is, of course, a recurring theme for us as Christians. Life overcoming death, triumph over the grave, houseplants bursting back even after I’ve forgotten them on vacation. It’s who we are, and what we are called to remember in Advent.
This Sunday, we will participate in an old tradition where the congregation takes part in “hanging the greens” around our gathering spaces. The “greens” remind us of everlasting life (because they are evergreens) and our putting them up reminds us of our part in sharing that news with the world.
Now here’s the thing… these greens look an awful lot like Christmas decorations to me, but that’s okay. It’s just another way we have a tension between our rush toward a “holly jolly Christmas” and prayerful call to “slow down, it’s Advent.” On Sunday, we will call them Advent decorations and try our level best to remember that we are not quite ready for mangers and shepherds yet.
Trees and wreaths, garlands and boughs of holly all remind us that God is doing some gardening of God’s own this season. Even in the midst of winter, new life is just beneath the surface. Fragrant pine and prickly holly point us to the larger truth that God is with us even in the cold (mildly temperate) days of winter.
Sunday morning you and I will have a chance to hang up some greens together and make this place look a little bit different. Perhaps we can take this time to share the stories of our lives where a shoot broke loose out of a stump and God’s ever-greening Love was known to us. Maybe our stories will bring us together in this Advent season as we prepare for the coming of Christ into our lives again… in new ways.
Always remember, you are loved beyond measure whether you’re a green thumb or not…