A Shoot From the Stump of Our Lives
The increasing light that follows Christmas is a sign that Our Lord creating new growth in us.
I have never noticed the slanting light of winter afternoons as vividly as I have this Advent on our daily family walk — a walk that has become our custom in 2020 just to get out of the house. The sun eases her way over the horizon these days — coming up late, going down early. She shows herself for only eight hours or so and then leaves us in the darkness speckled with the twinkling Christmas lights of our neighborhood. Advent feels more advent-like than normal as we wait, wait for the world to breathe again, wait for things to be normal again, wait most of all for Christ to come on Christmas morning. Perhaps his coming into our hearts again this year will change everything as it did on that first Christmas.
Isaiah wrote about the coming of Christ in these words we hear every Advent, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots” (Isaiah 11:1). The prophet’s words were talking about the line of the family of Jesse, the father of David. They were words for the chosen, faithful people of God, but they lost their way again and again and again. When Jesus came as a little baby — God made man — he was this shoot coming out from this stump of the broken line of kings, a stump of the chosen people unable to stay close to God, a stump of all fallen humanity unable to know God on their own.
He brought new growth to the whole world — growth in which we are all called to share.
Now, I do not know how this past year has been for you personally. For me it has been full of complying with government ordinances, seeing friends and family as much as seemed reasonable, dealing with multiple health crises for one of my children, accepting God’s will for my family, and weathering the political turmoil. Then looking more closely at my day to day, I see the routine of morning home schooling paired with my afternoon work time, and in the distractions I seek from my life, I see a dead stump. This stump has not been formed there because of the external forces of 2020, but it is the result of habitual sins that I have let flourish under the auspices of all the struggles of this year.
As I pray with this dead stump in my life and with the prophecy of Isaiah, I grow in the belief that Jesus wants to be a shoot in my life this Christmas. He is coming to be born into each and every one of our lives again this year on Christmas Day — as a shoot out of whatever dead stump we each stand protectively over. Maybe it is a habitual sin that we go to for comfort instead of God’s love. Maybe it is a relationship we see as unrevivable, but that God is waiting to plant life into. Maybe it is something for which we have prayed so long that we forgot why we even want it anymore, but God has not forgotten. I do not know what your dead stump might be, but I do know that you probably need that new shoot to grow as much as I need for mine to do.
The remedy is waiting in the form of a newborn infant king in the arms of his sinless mother. He wants to be the growth in our lives — to start something new. He may not change the external circumstances. The whole world will still bear so many sufferings. We will also have or individual trials. The Lord is more concerned with our spiritual growth — which he fosters through our hardships. He is coming to change our hearts, to unite us to him more closely, to draw all who are lost to him. He wants to bring life to all of the dead stumps. But he can only bring that life if we open our hearts to him and let him enter into the broken and dead parts. We have to ask for our tender gardener to work in us and actively accept the grace of new life and healing. We cannot sit by complacently while he seeks to change us, but must join him in his work.
When Christmas comes, the days will begin to grow longer. While the Northern winter I live in will still have many months to go, the increasing light will be a sign for us. A sign that Jesus is making a change — that he is creating new growth in us. And I pray that I will look back on this Advent when I recognized the dead stump in my day, and smile at the beautiful shoot thriving. I pray the same for you.