I cannot believe another year has passed. Sometimes I wonder where it went, but this year there were moments that seemed so long. Seconds that went on uncomfortably, pregnant with anxiety. This year flew by, but at times it didn’t. And certainly I am not alone. I am sure there are others whose life squealed to a halt this year. There were moments when you just were not sure the next would come. The anxiety of an impending foreclosure pries at you as you lay in bed wondering what time the collector is going to call tomorrow. Maybe for you it is the pain and hurt of a deteriorating family. The moments feel like days as you wonder if things will ever get better. Maybe this year has not tried you in major ways, but I am sure at some point the days got the best of you. Maybe for a few fleeting moments hope buried deep under predicament of the moment. Well in this season, we are invited to slow down and to remember that hope is what keeps us going. Even in the midst of waiting and waiting we are called to hold on to hope.
An aging couple sat down to a selection of their favorite foods. It had become their annual celebration, another year of marriage. Again the year passed with nothing but a promise. Each year give birth to nothing but anxiety, frustration, and despair. The barren womb with a promised lineage, weighed on the aging couple. The promises of new life give way to the despair of another year waiting. A child is not going to come; the ancestry will come to rest here. Their lineage is just a stump in the ground. A failed promise.
A prophet comes to the household of Jesse and one by one meets his sons. Each son is the possible heir to the thrown. Jesse introduced the prophet to his first-born. “No,” says the prophet. Next the second in line, the prophet shakes his head a No. God has in mind someone different. A special king and this search led them out into the pastures where the youngest is kept watch over the sheep. “This one,” God says. He will be my King and David is anointed. Later, he is given the throne. Everyone loves this king. King David is the mighty warrior who slayed the undefeated Philistine Giant. This King is the one who brought glory to the house of Israel. King David is the king of kings. And from David is promised one greater.
So Solomon is born, this wise one had his good qualities, but he did not bring the full promises of God. Then comes Jeroboam, but he seemed further from the promised king. And one after another the kings pass and one after another the wait is prolonged. Then the unthinkable happened. Israel is taken from their homeland to a foreign land. The exiled nation has no power and the King thing, well it seems as if it is nothing but a stump. The once-thriving cedar of hope has become a dead end.
And this kind of waiting has a way of dulling our sense of hope. It blurs the God’s promises just as a memory dims as the days pass. Just as Sarah’s aches and pains signaled the cooling of the reality of the promised child, the days of “no” have a way of hardening our hearts.
But Scripture reminds us of the promises of God. For it says, “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse, and from its root a Branch will bear fruit.” We are drawn back into the hope of Israel. The hope one greater than David, a Messiah, will come. And this Messiah will be King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Even in another land, with no power, hope springs up. And in the womb of an elderly woman a baby boy kicks for the first time. And in the midst of the most violent storm of your life a shoot appears. And Out of the hard lifeless eyesore of a stump the promises of God force their way through. It is the sign of life that rescues us of from despair.
This season of Advent is beautiful because it gives us a chance to remember the promises of God, and invites each one of us to expect the shoot to spring out of pain or emptiness or brokenness. The promise of hope—through whatever the situation or storm in your life—can keep you whole.
This stirring image must be ours. We are to be the people who wait expectantly for God’s deliverance. There is nothing easy about Biblical assurances for we live in the real world, and all around us chaos abounds. Yet, we are the people who hold to God’s image of peace and rest. Though our government is no closer . . . we believe God’s shoot of Jesse can overcome. Though it may seem the cry, “Come Lord Jesus” may go unheard; we lean into the promise of our faithful God, because we have been witnesses of God’s work.
Advent hope grants us breath, even when anxiety confronts. It gives us strength even when ours knees are far too weak to stand. It is a dawn to the deep shadows of life. So we stand on our tip-toes waiting for God to come.