Sunday 5th December

2nd Sunday of Advent

Reading: Isaiah 11:1-10


Last week we heard about the great lights in the sky; the sun, moon and stars. The roaring seas and the land along with the heavenly bodies would all be shaken. The bible makes many references to the natural world. And in particular trees are central to many stories or parables, such as the fig tree from last week.

Right from the very first book of Genesis and the garden of Eden with all types of trees planted. Described this way in chapter two, ‘trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.’ And of course the tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of life, from which eating the fruits was forbidden. In the first Psalm we read about the man who is like the tree which is planted near the streams of water. It yields fruit in season and its leaves never wither. We here of the Jesse tree from the prophet Isaiah, and will return to that in a moment, but he also speaks later in the book about the time when the trees will clap their hands with joy as the hills and mountains burst into song. The New Testament continues with various references to trees and the imagery taken from them in different circumstances. Jesus speaks about being the vine and we are the branches. None more so than in the book of the Acts of the Apostles the reference is made to Jesus being killed by being hung on a tree. In homes up and down the country over the next couple of weeks trees will become a focal point for the family Christmas celebrations. They will be adorned with tinsel and baubles and of course the twinkling colourful lights. Let’s return to the opening verse from Isaiah. It sets everything in line. This shoot that will rise up from the stump of Jesse has the great message of hope for the Israelite people. The whole of the chapter conjures up the fondest memories for the people. Isaiah borrows images from three of the great events in their history. That opening verse reminding them of the days during king David’s reign. When Israel was still a united nation and they were a prosperous one too.

In the middle of the chapter vs 6-9 he takes them back to that garden of Eden when all was created to live in harmony with each other as the glory of God filled the air and gave life to all creatures. By the end of the chapter Isaiah reminds them of the great miracle of the Exodus when God dried up the sea that his people could cross over in safety. But having said all of that. He realises living in the past does not move his people forward. Revisiting these wonderful times in their nation’s history are employed to highlight the need to prepare for the future for that is where they, that is where we will live. Whatever ‘the good old days’ were or were not, the future time of peace will exceed it all. Where is the hope in this Jess tree?

The prophets tell the people of a time when a young woman who is pregnant will have a son and will name him Immanuel. In every Jewish mother’s heart the expectation is Immanuel. Every child born could be Immanuel. The prophets proclaim the presence of God. And when Immanuel appears what will be? What hope is in our waiting? He will come to the aid of his people, to set them free. Salvation is every father’s hope in a new world for their children. In all of our waiting and all of our longing. We listen for the one who announces the Good News of God’s promise: we listen for our name as one whom God calls his own and we live in this hope for the world. And the prophet speaks. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out”. We call out to those who bring light, and who live within the light. Light gives us courage as we hope that our name will be amongst the ones God calls into the world, to be light in the darkness. The Jesse tree poem repeat. For those who wait for hope and light in Advent, who wait to hear their name called by God. We hear the words as the virgin speaks, “My soul is glad because of God my saviour, for God has remembered me, his lowly servant.” The song on every parent’s lips as they name their child. What name shall be our name? The ones God’s promise is for, whose world God is born into, whose life God interrupts, with heaven. And the Jesse Tree greens again, whose leaves become the names of God’s People, living within the longing and hope of Incarnation. For the time is surely coming, when the promise of God spoken to those ancient generations, will find fulfilment, among us.

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