2nd Sunday in Advent – 12/04/2022
What do you see this morning as you look outside of your warm, cozy home? For one, to be sure, you see a blanket of freshly fallen, gleaming whiteness. However, that beautiful pall does not completely cover the ugly deadness that lurks beneath, nor does it take away the bite of the bitter coldness of this wintery day.
What do you and I see outside the window of our lives in the world of mankind? I would venture to say that we see few signs of the vitality of life but primarily the omens of a culture of death and wickedness. Instead of order, we see chaos. Instead of unity, we see the ugly politics of division. Instead of respect for life, we see a death culture: the evil justification for killing our unborn children while criminalizing anyone who legally hunts game animals. We see the wondrous destruction and theft of other people's property simply because the perpetrators have judged their victims unworthy to possess such property solely based on their skin color, social status, or religion. We see little to no respect for objective truth but rather the pervasive rejection of God, the Bible, and the standards and moral values of thousands of generations before us. Instead of light, we see darkness. Is there any hope for our world?
There is no life so miserable as that which has no hope. As we hear in our Old Testament reading this morning, Isaiah finds himself looking at the stump of a seemingly dead tree. And yet, his spirit is lifted as, down within the roots of this stump, he sees that there is still life. He proclaims: "There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit." Hope is alive, and it springs eternal!
We can say this because the stump Isaiah sees and holds before us is not just any dead log. This stump is the "stump of Jesse." As such, this stump offers eternal hope to you and me, as well as the whole world.
Granted, there is not much to get excited about, nor is there much to encourage us in some old stories. But this stump is not the one you wish you could get removed from your backyard. This stump is that of "Jesse." Jesse was King David's father, and the LORD God had established his kingdom with the promise that it would never end, that it would be established above all other kingdoms, and that his reign would be eternal and glorious. As Isaiah had stated in an earlier chapter, that dead-looking stump represented the "holy seed," God's promised line from which He would bring Israel and the world the King of Kings, the Messiah (6:13).
The house of Jesse here is seen as an old, dead-looking stump because, during the time of Isaiah, that once mighty oak of the dynasty of Jesse, which had under the reign of David and his son, Solomon, towered over Israel's whole world, was now on the brink of ending. Because of the failure and idolatry of the other descendants of David, the kingdom was in danger of being lost. Only a fraction of the original kingdom was still alive, even in the family. The house of Jesse now ruled only the southern land of Judah. The David line had narrowly escaped a mass murder and assassination. It seemed inevitable that Israel's enemies would win out and overtake the Davidic throne.
But all was not lost, even as the wayward sons of David did their best to lose the kingdom. In the prophetic vision, Isaiah saw a sprout shoot up on that old stump, that is, from this God-established holy seed, and grow into a vibrant branch that would bear fruit (v. 1). The LORD would acknowledge this sprout from Jesse, empowering him with His very Spirit sevenfold. "And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord" (v. 2).
Accordingly, this son of Jesse would be unlike any other. He would reign in a manner unheard of or seen in the reign of any other kings, leaders, or governments. Isaiah states: "... his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord." He shall not judge by what his eyes see or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness, he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and 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 of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins" (vs. 3–5).
Can you imagine how this description of the reign of this King would have revived the dispirited people of Israel with real hope? Imagine that your king, your ruler, would not just say the right things he wanted his subjects to hear but reign righteously and keep his campaign promises! Imagine that righteousness and faithfulness make up the very "supporting belt" of His reign!
How ripe our world is today for such a ruler! Our leaders and society are so enamored with wokism, gender equity, and what they call inclusivity that they have absolutely no concept of true righteousness or faithfulness. In word and action, they prove every day that they have no fear of God. Neither do they have any desire to know, hear, or heed the word or way of the LORD. They vote, rule, and judge only according to what seems right in their own eyes and for their benefit. Their sense of righteousness has nothing to do with the Moral Law established by God, and their sense of fairness is not based upon the value God has placed upon every human being by His creation of them but is based upon a scale of worthiness they have invented based upon one's skin color, who they consider to be oppressed and the oppressor, who embraces their progressive agenda and attitudes about the environment, gender fluidity, and sexuality.
Thank God, the Sprout of Jesse enjoys the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what he sees or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but rather judge by what the LORD God has decreed as to what is right, good, and fair.
Neither is He interested in some man-made rules about equity as defined by whoever is in power, but He rules by seeing each person as having equal value—the value God has given them. Accordingly, with the breath of his mouth, he justifies the humble, and with the rod of his mouth, he condemns and kills the wicked.
The result of this sprout of Jesse's reign is a kingdom of true, lasting, and eternal peace! Isaiah seems to picture it as a return to the Garden: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fatted calf 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 cobra, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den. "They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (vs. 5–9).
Can you imagine living under such a reign, in such a kingdom? Isaiah says of it, "In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples,—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious." Truly, this would be heaven!
So, who is this sprout of Jesse? Who does Isaiah foresee as the one who can bring about this truly heavenly kingdom of peace? I'm sure we can immediately agree that it is neither Joe Biden nor Donald Trump nor Emmanuel Macron of France nor Vladimir Putin. No present world leader, nor one from the past or future, fits the bill.
There is only one Sprout of Jesse who brings about true peace between heaven and earth, as well as peace on the earth. He is Jesus of Nazareth. Interestingly, the Hebrew word used here by Isaiah and translated into English as "branch" is netzer, a "fresh, green shoot." "At first so humble and insignificant, was a poor, despised Nazarene," one commentator observed (F. Delitzsch, p. 282).
Jesus is of the lineage of Jesse. Although not totally the same, both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke contain the genealogy of Jesus: Matthew through the line of Joseph, via Solomon, the son of David, the son of Jesse, and Luke through the line of Mary, via Nathan, the son of David, the son of Jesse. Jesus is of the "holy seed" the LORD preserved in Judah. And so we heard the apostle Paul say in our Epistle Reading from Romans this morning: "For I tell you that Christ (Jesus) became a servant to the circumcised to show God's truthfulness, to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and so that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy" (Ro. 15:8–9).
At the same time, Jesus alone was born of a woman and yet was also begotten of the Heavenly Father from all eternity (Nicene Creed). Only in Jesus do we have the witness of the heavenly angel: "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High" (Lk 1:32). Likewise, Jesus alone was anointed with the seven-fold blessing of the Holy Spirit on the day of His baptism in the Jordan by John. He alone heard the heavenly Father's attestation: "You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased."
True justice is only carried out through Jesus. He alone was appointed to suffer God's full wrath against all sinners. Jesus alone atoned for the just and the unjust. Accordingly, to Him alone is given the eternal throne of judgment. He alone can lift the poor and needy and bring down the impenitent and self-righteous.
On this Second Sunday of Advent, therefore, we are once again encouraged, in the throes of the winter of this world and its vacuum of righteousness and peace, to be at peace and to have hope. For Jesus, the son of Jesse, is our peace. He says to us: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." I do not give to you as the world does."Let not your hearts be troubled, nor let them be afraid" (Jn 14:27).
And, so, our hope also springs eternally in and through the Sprout of Jesse, Jesus Christ. As Paul reminded us again this morning, "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Ro. 15:4)