Christmas Day, 2012
Isaiah 11:1-10, Romans. 1:1-4, Luke 3:23-38
You may wonder why I chose a boring genealogy with names and generations of the past as today’s Gospel reading. What does it have to do with Christmas? Well, what if I say it has a lot to do with Christmas? Not only that, what if I say it has a lot to do with our future hope as well, the Advent topic that we have been talking about for the past three weeks? Won’t you be surprised? Well, I will come back to this later. Today I will preach on Isaiah chapter 11 and talk about “a shoot from the stump of Jesse.”
In spring of this year, a sweet potato in our home sprouted after we ignored it in room temperature for too long. So, we figured, “why don’t we simply bury it in our backyard and let it grow. Maybe we will enjoy its leaves.” BTW, the leaves of sweet potatoes are delicious. So, not knowing even how to grow a sweet potato, we just buried it in the ground. Sure enough, it did grow. And we did enjoy its leaves. Several months later, the winter came. One day when I was cleaning up the backyard, I came to this withered plant and wondered what it would be like under ground, I mean its root. What happened to the original sweet potato? Out of curiosity I dug it out. It shouldn’t have amazed me, but it did. My old sweet potato had almost all gone except a few small pieces of skin. In some sense, the old had died and a new life had grown out of it into an thriving vine that gave us so many leaves to eat.
If a sweet potato can do such a amazing thing, it would be even more amazing to see a shoot coming out of a stump. A stump speaks of the past, of what has been. Its annual rings tell you how many years the tree had survived before it was cut down. Year after year it survived droughts and fire. Year after year it grew and prospered. But now, it’s dead and it’s nothing. It’s too hard to take it out of the ground so it sits there, doing nothing. Year after year it sits bearing the sun of summer, the fallen leaves of autumn, the snows of winter and the trees of spring budding around it with leaves. But, nothing comes from the stump. Until one year, one spring, a shoot comes out of the stump. There is hope and a new life from the old.
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Today’s text from Isaiah is a message of hope and life. To the original hearers of Isaiah, it had been more than three hundred years since Israel had been at the peak of its power with King David, the anointed son of Jesse. Now the tree of Jesse would be cut down as Israel would be destroyed and the temple in Jerusalem would be burned down. Like a stump, the people of Israel would sit in the land of Babylon as captives year after year bearing humiliation, hardship, pains and losing identity as people of God. In the midst of despair, God promised a messiah, a savior would come and save them and rule the kingdom of David forever. But the question is “Where is this shoot? To be exact, who is the Messiah?” The people of Israel did not know at that time, neither do they know today. They are still waiting for the Messiah. What a stubborn and misled Israel! The shoot from the stump of Jesse has already come forth. It happened on the first Christmas Day. The Messiah is the Son of David and Son of God, Jesus our Savior.
You may wonder why the shoot is Jesus. Now it’s time for the genealogy to come into the picture. This genealogy traces all the way back to Adam. What Jews don’t understand is how to count “annual rings” of the stump and how to trace the root. The count of annual rings is not just three hundred years, not even three thousand years. They are near-sighted. They only see generations up to Jesse, to Jacob, or to Abraham at most. The matter of fact is, the tree is much older than that. The root goes all the way back to Adam, the first human being.
The reason for their error is that they think the Messiah is their national hero who will restore the kingdom of David. Though Jesus is a descendant of David, therefore of Jesse, He did not save Israel from the tyranny of Roman government, He is crucified. To them, He was not qualified. However, they don’t see the universal characteristics of Messiah. They cannot explain why the Bible keeps saying the Kingdom of Messiah is forever. “Forever” means forever, not temporal. Today’s text says that all nations will inquire of Messiah. Jesse is just a representative of the tree of children of God. God’s promise of Messiah goes all the way back to the time when after Adam and Eve sinned and ate the forbidden fruit, God cursed the serpent, the devil. He says “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” That was the first prophecy of Messiah. God had never forsaken or changed His promise. Therefore, yes, the shoot from the stump of Jesse does come from the descendant of Jesse, but the promise is not just for the people of Israel. The promise is for the descendant of Adam, thus for the whole world. The message of salvation, hope and eternal life is for every human being.
On the first Christmas day, the prophecy was fulfilled in a baby lying in a manger in Bethlehem. “In the city of David, unto you a Savior is born this day, who is Christ the Lord.” His name is Jesus “for he will save his people from their sins.” A shoot from the stump of Jesse has come forth. Jesus and His cross “stand as a signal for the peoples–of him all the nations inquire, and his resting place is glorious” because of resurrection. This branch has borne fruit. The tree of children of God continues to bear fruits in the NT church. A shoot from the stump of Jesse is Jesus Christ, our savior.
Because the root traces all the way back to Adam, the stump represents the human nature of Christ. But the life of the shoot comes from God when Mary conceived Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Today’s Epistle Romans 1 says, God “promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead.” Like the stump, the human nature in each one of us has been dead in sin sitting there doing nothing according to God’s will, bearing the hardship, pain, burden and humiliation of sin, death and the devil. Sandy Hook elementary school shooting again reveals the darkness of human condition. Year after year, generation after generation, people of God are waiting for a savior who would come and save us from this predicament, just as we have been doing for the past three weeks in Advent. As St. Paul puts it, the whole creation waits with eager longing to free from its bondage to corruption, and the children of God wait in hope the redemption of our bodies. The Son of God took on himself human flesh and came to His own creation. His death and resurrection totally reversed the fate of human race by conquering sin, death and the devil. He also brought liberated hope to the whole creation by promising new heaves and a new earth. The shoot from the stump of Jesse will thrive into eternity.
What does the boring genealogy have to do with Christmas? What does it have to do with our future hope? A shoot from the stump of Jesse has come forth. The prophecy of Messiah has been fulfilled in Christ Jesus. The root of Jesse goes all the way back to Adam. The new branch of the children of God has borne fruit. In Christ Jesus, we have hope of eternal life, a life that will live in new heavens and a new earth that will be free from bondage of any corruption. It all begins on the first Christmas day, when the Son of God was born in a manger in the city of David and a shoot came out of the stump of Jesse.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!