A shoot shall come out from the stump 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. -Isaiah 11: 1-10
The photo for this week’s Advent reflection is one I took this spring of a tree stump in our front yard. As Juan and I were working together to clear off the decaying leftover leaves from winter, raking and clearing space for the plants that were emerging after winter, I saw this. An old tree stump – the remnant of a tree cut down long before we lived here. But in the empty space a little tiny shoot of new life, a new tree growing out of the old one. It reminded me of the time I visited a banana plantation in Colombia years ago and workers spent the day with our group explaining the cultivation process of banana trees. Each banana tree only gets one large flower to grow from it, and at the other end of that stalk is the bunch of bananas that grow. After that one production, the tree begins to die, but the tree is not cut down immediately because there is a baby tree growing out of the old and dying tree, the next banana tree to grow, flower, and produce fruit.
Out of death comes new life.
Former living beings become the seed, the soil and the fertilizer for something new.
In our Presbytery, I have most acutely seen this new life coming into its own in our New Worshiping Communities.
When I visited the Underwood Park CrossFit NWC for the first time, at the end of an exhausting workout, one of the participants said these words to me which have been so profound:
When I first moved to this town, I was alone. I knew no one. My brother drives a truck and would stop by to visit me when he came through town. But that was it. I felt so isolated. Then I joined this gym and came to its worship services. I now have friends, I am not alone. And now I am getting healthy.
When I attended the first worship service for the Adirondack Church WoW NWC, a man stood up to say why he was there:
When my father died 10 years ago, one of the last things he said to me was that he hoped I would find a way to know God. I have gone in and out of churches since then, but I feel so disconnected. And then I found this community. And it welcomes me and who I am. And I am talking to God again.
When I talked to the woman at Underwood Crossfit NWC she didn’t know who I was, that I was a pastor, or I had something to do with a larger church system that supported her community. She thought I was like her, a seeker, someone new to town, maybe someone lonely like she was the beginning. When our conversation closed she gave me a hug and said:
I am so excited you are here. This place has changed my life. Just wait, it’ll happen to you too.
At its core, new life is about growth. The Prophet Isaiah talks about all of the new life that will come out of the stump of Jesse, all that new growth. It will be beautiful and it will be peace-filled. It will be full of glory.
In the Church we do not grow so our numbers increase, or we meet our budget, or anything else that is for our personal survival or comfort. We seek growth because we are about evangelism – the telling of the Good News. The healing of communities. The protection of the vulnerable. The creation of peace based on God’s justice. We seek new growth so that with the example of our lives, others can tell what life in Jesus Christ is.
How can you engage new life, new growth, and evangelism in this season of Advent – holy waiting for the in-breaking of the Christ Child into our world once again?
Blessings as you continue your Advent Journey….