A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse, and a Branch from his roots will bear fruit. (Isaiah 11:1).
Evidence of the world’s brokenness is painfully apparent. Surely we can resonate with the cynicism expressed by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow when he penned the following lyrics during the Civil War:
“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong, And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’”
It seems as if our holiday festivities cannot escape an ever-threatening “yet.”
With the Nicene Creed we confess our hope that the same Jesus who “for us and for our salvation came down from heaven and became incarnate through the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary” will come again one day. Yet we’re also tempted to believe, “Where is this coming he promised? For ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4).
With Isaiah we confess that peace on earth is possible because the “Prince of Peace” has arrived (Isaiah 9:6). Yet we’re also tempted to believe our conflicts—both personal and global—are simply intractable.
With the angels we confess that the birth of Jesus, our Savior, is the source of “great joy for all people” (Luke 2:11). Yet we’re also tempted to believe joy is something we can only experience in fits and starts depending on how we’re feeling on any given day.
With the Gospel of John we confess that God’s love for the world is such that “He sent His one and only Son so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Yet we’re also tempted to believe (and we often act as though) God’s love is something to be earned or lost depending on our own efforts.
Is there any escape from this “yet”? According to the Holy Spirit speaking to us through Isaiah, this “yet” can be pictured as a stump, i.e. an impasse, an insurmountable obstacle, a dead end. God had promised to provide a dynasty to rule Israel in David’s stead. Yet centuries of civil wars, invasions, and exiles had caused this promise to look like a pipe dream. The God of Israel, however, is in the business of bringing forth life from the stumps left in the wake of our sin. Indeed, there is no “yet” that can stand in the way of the glorious truth announced 2,000 years ago: “Today, in the town of David a Savior has been born to you. He is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11). It is a truth to be received humbly, celebrated joyfully, and proclaimed boldly. It cannot be improved upon or negated by our circumstances. May we, therefore, give thanks for what only God can do with a stump!