A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
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.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
From Agitation to Patience
The Rev. Connie Frierson
Once upon a time in front of my childhood home, there was a magnificent maple tree. It was broad and tall. I had a swing hanging from its branches. The great trunk was so thick that I couldn’t reach around it. In fact, three children, hand to hand, couldn’t reach around it. But about ten years ago, it grew too old, and too damaged and ultimately had to be cut down. The day the maple was cut down was black day in our family’s life. My sister’s took off from work to be there the day it was cut. The tree went from a magnificent giant to firewood and brush and then just a stump. The cutting down of the big maple was a family tragedy. We all knew we would never see that great tree again.
I am thinking about that tree as I read this passage from Isaiah 11 on this Sunday, the second Sunday in Advent. Our passage starts out with the image of new life springing from a dead old stump. “A shoot shall grow out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Our modern ears need a little explanation. Who the heck is Jesse and what does it mean that a branch shall grow out of that root? Jesse was the father of David, the famous David, who became King David. King David’s reign was a time of unification of all of Israel. This was in many ways the golden age. The shoot of Jesse is talking about the house and descendants of King David. So a shoot out of the stock of Jesse is more than just a son or descendant but is a great hope, a messianic figure, a savior of a nation and the soul of a people.
The current reality for the writer of Isaiah was quite different from this hopeful rebirth and the coming of a peaceable kingdom. What this writer saw from his window or walls was that the mighty and cruel Assyrian army was threatening Jerusalem. A great swarm of an army was about to over run the southern kingdom of Judea just as it had overrun the northern kingdom. The writer could just look a little to the north and see Damascus and Samaria cut down, defeated, and in ruins. The kingdom built on King David, Jesse’s famous son, had been axed. When this prophesy and poem was written the stump of that big tree of David was pretty fresh and raw. War was at the gates. The idea that a branch is ever going to rise from that old tree was unlikely. Completely in contrast to the eminent disaster, our passage goes on to foretell a time of great and lasting peace. When wolves and lambs lay down together and leopards cuddle up to baby goats, and lions and cows are chummy and babies play with the snakes. This vision is extraordinary and unbelievable in the midst of war.
If we look at this passage with both eyes open we see a vision that doesn’t make sense to us. Out of one eye we see the reality of destruction. But the writer also wants us to look with the other eye and see God’s hope and God’s future. This reminds me of those old View Master stereoscopes. This was the hottest gift item for Christmas of 1958. It was a devise where you look through and both eyes look at the same picture and you get a 3-D image. The picture came to life. What was a flat picture suddenly had depth. I loved the View Master as a kid. They jumped out at me like a lively dimensional figure. This was the super 3-D of the ancient world of the 1950’s and 60’s. Suddenly there was DEPTH. I think this is what the prophet Isaiah wanted for us too, depth. Holding both the reality of suffering and the reality of God’s promises in tension helps us to grow in depth. We need to live and see this world clearly. Yet we need to hope and breath in the blessings of God’s love. Without both of these dimensions we are flat and dull 2-D people. Without depth of soul, we are flat as a newspaper pessimists, or we are silly Polly Ann pancakes.
Our problem is that if we put the two visions, together it doesn’t make sense. Even in Isaiah’s age, it didn’t make sense. And if we look at the cruel world and God’s promise of a peaceable kingdom from our time it doesn’t make sense. It is like this picture above. In one lens the tree is down and the stump is bare, but the other lens there is new growth and new possibilities. Or the view is that the world is war torn, but the other viewfinder shows a peaceable land. Or the view is that we are a predator prey kind of world not the God’s eye view that shows a world of harmonious grazers. We can’t seem to hold both of these views at the same time. Yet what this passage is saying to us is that faithful people trust in God’s promises and hold both visions simultaneously. We need to spiritually grow a View Master, a God-a-scope. This View Master/God-scope is a radical change. The God-a-scope is calling us to an alternative reality.
One way we learn to use this View Master God-scope is with patience. Patience requires us to live with the dissidence of an unhappy world and a joyous future. We look and see the real world around us but at the same time we sense God’s loving promises and see the great possibilities. We live in a world of clear-cut forests and we wait for the seedlings to take off. We live in a world of survival of the fittest and we help the weak. We live in a world where snakes bite babies and we look forward to a day when they are playmates. We live in a world of natural and eternal enemies, but God wants us to understand those enemies will be someday be friends. If we are not careful this double vision is going to drive us cross-eyed. But God has made a way for us to get our balance by exercising patience.
Patience and waiting patiently helps us live in balance. Patience helps us keep hope yet help in real time. This balance is sometimes precarious. We could fall off into cold fatalism and lose all touch with God. Or we could fall off the other end, only looking to God’s work, but never sensing God’s call to for us to work on real problems of the real world. On one side lay the dangers of nihilism, fatalism or even pride, when we think everything is our doing and our work. This side of error thinks that life is all about what we do. But Jesus did say, “I am the vine and you are the branches, Apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) On the other side is something called quietism. Quietism takes faith in God but misuses that great love of God to put us to sleep. When someone has fallen into quietism, they don’t act, they don’t hear God’s call to change the way the world is, if only for one person at a time. Mother Teresa once said, “If you can’t feed 100 people, feed just one.” But a quietist neglects to feed the one.
Looking through this God-a-scope with the first two candles of advent helps to put our vision inside God’s light. If we look for God’s light in the darkness and if we patiently and actively wait then we can see Our World and God’s World more clearly. There was a little girl who had one small idea about working towards a peaceable kingdom. Her name was Sadako Sasaki. She was born in 1943 and lived in Hiroshima, Japan. When she was 11, she developed leukemia. She remembered a story that says the crane is supposed to live 1000 years. If a sick person makes 1000 paper cranes, gods will grant her wish to be healthy again. So she made cranes and she drew strength from making them. Her wish over time grew to encompass a wish for a peaceful world. After she made crane number 654 Sadako died. Her classmates folded the other 356 cranes so she could be buried with 1,000 cranes. Sadako Sasaki’s letters were collected and published in a book that became known throughout Japan and then the world. A statue of Sadako Sasaki is in the Hiroshima Peace Park in Japan and another in Seattle, Washington. At the base of the statue is this, “This is our cry; this is our prayer, peace in our world.” To make 1000 paper cranes takes patience and vision. This is doing one small thing that moves us closer to God’s vision of our future.
As we wait for Christmas we think of another child who is called the Prince of Peace. As we wait in patience we need to think of how to wait actively and dynamically. Do we wait in passivity or do we wait in prayerful action. I thought we might turn to that wise elder for children, Fred Rogers, pioneer of children’s television, author, defender of childhood and imagination and Presbyterian minister. This is a song Mr. Rodgers first sang in 1982. The title is “Let’s Think of Something To Do While We’re Waiting.” What a wise thing to do. Thinking of something to do while waiting is wise for children and it is wise for grown ups. We are living between two worlds, the one we walk around in and the Peaceable Kingdom that the Prince of Peace will bring to us. Let us wait well. Let us pray until we sense what we are to do while we wait. Let us work towards the things God is blessing. Waiting become easier when you think of what God is calling you to do while you wait.
Remember that huge maple tree at the farmhouse. It looked like it had always been there. But it hadn’t. My dad had planted it when he was ten years old. That tree had taken a lifetime to grow broad and tall. My dad might have grown impatient for it to grow. But he lived his life, raising a family, teaching Sunday school, helping his neighbors and doing good. He might have forgotten that he was waiting because his life was so full. But when he looked at the huge tree he knew he was blessed to see it grow. Now all these years later, the tree is a broad flat stump. But as we gather at the farmhouse that tree stump is a destination. It is a destination for small children, my grand nieces and nephews. They are small shoots of hope, these nieces and nephews of the next generation. As I watch them race to the big tree stump and stand on top, I know God is at work in the future as in the past. Meanwhile, with patience, I’ll think of something to do while I’m waiting.