“But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom . . . On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, The Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.” (Is 11:1, 10, NAB)
As Christians prepare for the birthday of Jesus Christ, readings from the prophets feature prominently, especially from Isaiah. The readings take us to the ancient promises of God to send a Messiah who will deliver his people from their sins. Around the time Isaiah made the prophecies concerning the “root of Jesse” the monarchy was not in good shape. It was marked by confusion, fear, and lack of trust in the saving power of God. In many ways, the situation then could best be illustrated by the image of a felled tree.
Once a tree is felled, it loses its beauty and glory. If a stump is left, it can hardly reflect the former glory of the tree. As with most prophets of the Old Testament, Isaiah uses powerful imagery from nature to communicate profound truths. He is familiar with the prevailing spiritual, social, and moral conditions of the people at the time. It was far from pleasant. The Davidic throne was shaky. Anyone who knew about God’s promises to David would shudder. What had happened to the promise to bless David’s dynasty? What had happened to Nathan’s prophecy to David: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom . . . And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever‘”? (2Sam 7:12, 16).
Yet, as the Lord always does, he had a message of hope. He caused Isaiah to make a prophecy about the “root of Jesse” – the root of hope. He says: “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom (11:1). And again: “On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, the Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious” (11:10). Judah’s situation is likened to a stump, deprived of beauty and glory. But Isaiah makes it clear that the root of the stump is alive. Because it is a living stump, there is hope for it flourishing again. A shoot shall sprout from the stump, and from its roots a bud shall blossom. While its roots remain alive, a tree can be regenerated from the remaining stump. A return to glory and beauty is possible. David’s dynasty is rooted in the divine promises. Not even human weakness and outright unfaithfulness could destroy it. As a stump can bounce back to life as a tree, so will David’s throne prosper again until it reaches ultimate fulfillment with the coming of the Son of God. And so it was. That is the root of Jesse, the root of hope. God’s plans cannot be entirely thwarted. God built into his promises to the house of Judah ineradicable roots which would ensure fulfillment. Isaiah’s message, with the imagery of stump and root, is one of hope. No one, and nothing, can upset the irrevocable promises of God. St. Paul writes that “But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:4-5) St. Luke narrates that the root of Jesse gave life to the stump. A great and glorious tree sprung up when the angel Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to Mary: “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk 1:31-33). Halleluiah!
As Christmas approaches, it is worth drawing a lesson or two from Isaiah’s prophecy about the root of Jesse. First, God is Almighty. With him, all things are possible. Second, he is good. He never leaves people without hope. He is a God who offers hope, real hope. He always leaves roots in his people, so that they can always bounce back from failure and defeat. Third, – and this is for you – your life may seem like a stump, your spiritual life may be far from pleasant, your moral life may be shaky, your finances may be on the rocks, your joy may be depleted, your family may be going through tough times.
In short, you may look deprived of glory, beauty, and hope. Before you give up, pause, try to find any tree stump near you. Ask the stump if it entertains any hope of springing back. Of course, it has no way of telling you. But, know that even the stump has hope of springing back, of blossoming one day. You are more than the tree stump. You are a child of the Most High. Goodness is built into you. Beauty and glory are built into you. You are designed to flourish. You are deigned to blossom. You are designed with the potential to spring back. All is not over. The root of hope is in you. That root is God himself. As God lives, there is hope for you. You have the capacity for regeneration. As you prepare for the birthday of Jesus, I encouraged you to stay positive. Rejoice. Pay attention to what the Book of Revelation says about Jesus: “Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered . . . I Jesus have sent my angel to you with this testimony for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star. (Rev 5:5; 22:1)
Invitation to pray:
Lord Jesus, I adore you. Have mercy on me a sinner. Wash me in your Blood. Baptize me with your Holy Spirit. I put my trust in you. I confess you as the Root of David who has conquered death. Fill me with hope. Renew me. Revive my life. Revive my family, my spirituality, and my finances. Thank you, Lord. Amen.