The Second Sunday of Advent: Year A

“Put Your Hope in God”

 A sermon from Pastor Jane Jeuland ~

Today Isaiah shares with us that a “A shoot will come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

There are many olive trees in Israel that are hundreds if not thousands of years old. One is said to be over 5,000 years old. All olive trees at some point stop producing olives. At this point, growers will cut them down to a stump. I have a neighbor who has a beautiful lawn. Years ago, he had to cut down a huge tree in the center of his lawn. It was too big really to grind and his kids loved playing on it. Over the years, I’ve watched as the stump rotted, decayed and eventually just became a part of the soil.

This is not what olive trees do when they are cut down to the stump. When olive trees stop producing olives, growers cut down the tree to the stump because they know that when an olive tree is cut down to its stump, it will begin sprouting shoots out of its stump. The shoots eventually become a healthy mature olive tree and once again produce olives. The olive tree stump does rot into the ground.. instead when it is cut down to the stump, the tree begins a whole new life.

Do you or have you ever felt cut down to the stump? Perhaps you have felt your whole life cut down to the stump or perhaps there is an area of your life that can just bring you down. Perhaps you don’t share it with a lot of people and most of the time it’s fine, but every once in a while somethings triggers it and it seems to just cut you down. Or perhaps there is someone in your life who just seems to know how to push your buttons and what they say and do can just cut you down to size as we say.

Do you ever feel cut down, brought down like that?

The Israelites certainly did when Isaiah addressed them in our passage today. Israel had been united under one King for over a hundred years.  During that time the first temple was built in Jerusalem. It was majestic and no one thought it would ever be brought down. It was a time of prosperity, a real golden era for Israel until the Kingdom became divided into two distinct northern and southern kingdoms. At the same time that Israel became divided, the neighboring Assyrian empire grew in size and strength. The prophets Isaiah and Micah both predicted that the Assyrians would overtake the now vulnerable, divided kingdom. As the Assyrian army was bearing down on the divided kingdoms of Israel, the Israelites were thrown into one of their darkest hours. Indeed they felt like they had been cut down to a stump that would wither away, decay, and become lost to the dirt.

The theme of the first week of advent was hope.. Paul encouraged us to have hope that the light will come even when there is no sign of light… Paul said, have no fear… the night is far gone and the day is near. Paul had this unflinching, radical hope. Even in the face of incredible opposition, threats of imprisonment and even threats on his life, he continued to work on building more churches and dedicated his life to winning over more people to Christ. He had this unwavering hope and he encouraged us to adopt the same kind of unfailing hope, because he knew that we need hope like we need air to breathe.

Today Isaiah expresses the same steadfast hope in the midst of great opposition and darkness. When the Kingdom of Israel is broken and Israel is on the brink of being overtaken by the Assyrian army, Isaiah stands among the downtrodden Israelites and says, you are not destined to be swallowed up by the earth. You are destined for greater things because out of this cut down kingdom, a shoot will spring forth. He says, “a shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was David’s father, so Isaiah is not only saying that the Israelites will recover.. he is saying, the Israelites will once again return to a golden era of safety, prosperity, and growth.

What is the basis of this kind of hope? When Israel is cut down to a barren stump in the ground, what basis does Isaiah have for such hope? Where does his hope come from? Where did Paul’s unflinching hope come from in the pitch black of night?

When you are feeling cut down by life, by a part of your life, or by another person… what basis do you have for hope? Where does hope come from?

Paul, in his letter to the Romans says that “our hope comes from God.” In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul says, that “faith is the substance of things hoped for.”

Where does our hope come from even when there is no sign of light and where does our hope come from even when we feel cut down? Our hope comes from God. God is the basis for our hope… our faith in God is the substance of our hope. Our faith in God is the literal stuff of hope, it is the foundation of hope. It is because of our faith that we can hope.

Hope without faith in God is mere wishing and wanting.. It is what a lot of the world is consumed by right now… wanting one more thing.. buying one more thing. We all do it and presents and celebration is so wonderful, but I think we are all fully aware that that stuff we hope for and want, while it is fun, it is not what is going to help us rebuild our lives when all seems lost. It is hope in God that helps us not only to survive, but as Isaiah so boldly says, it allows us to thrive.

Faith in the Lord, hope in God is the only way we will have life and life abundantly.

So if you are feeling cut down in life. If something in your life brings you down or there is someone who can make you feel low, put your hope in the Lord. Trust in God. Have faith…It may not seem like it now, but a shoot will come forth from your stump… You are not destined to be swallowed up by the earth. You are destined for greater things. A shoot will spring forth from your low places. you will grow again and you will bear fruit again… you will thrive again in life… you will overcome that struggle in life… you will learn to navigate that difficult relationship so that it does not bring you down. With faith, you will grow again and have a whole new life of joy, peace, and love.