A timber merchant. A forest. A woodcutters yard. That’s what our meetings at church look like at the moment. There are tree stumps scattered all over the building and worship team don the stage in their finest lumberjack attire. We’ve designed our Christmas meetings around a beautiful verse in the old testament foretelling Jesus’ birth hundreds of years before he came:
“Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. . . . In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place”
(Isaiah 11:1, 10)
I think we forget that before Jesus, the world was in a hopeless place – God had been silent for 400 years, he no longer spoke through the prophets. Prayers were left unanswered. God’s people were tied to ritual and sacrifices, laws and commandments, atoning for their sin. The Messiah, the hero who would save the day was promised to David’s family but his lineage looked hopeless, filled with affairs and adultery, murderers and rapists. David’s family was like a stump. The world was lifeless like the remnant of an old tree.
But that small baby’s cry in Bethlehem was the glimmer of hope, that first sign of life. That fresh sprout was evidence of the hope that was ahead. The hope that you can experience the greatest love ever to exist, lasting joy and peace. That can free you from your past, from guilt and shame. Hope that you can experience your true potential and purpose and spend eternity with God in relationship with him. That God would send his son to earth to pay the price for our sins so that we don’t have to. Because of that baby, we have free access to God and have a relationship with him.
Hope is here.
I think of prayers I’ve prayed over the last years, of the stumps that those in my life have faced. For my friend who was told it was impossible to have a baby, who’s been trying year after year but she conceived, and this Christmas holds a beautiful little girl in her arms. For a relative who’s hated his job for as long as I’ve known him, it’s made him miserable and knocked his confidence, but he quit in faith and he has a job he enjoys which is far more financially rewarding. For a mentor who’s watched her friends get married for the past 2 decades and wanted a family of her own but this year, she married and sits by her tree sharing Christmas as a newlywed. For friends in our community who’ve been diagnosed with cancer, but in sheer radiant defiance, in the face of medical expectations, they are healthy, strong, cancer-free and vivaciously absorbed in Christmas celebrations.
I’ve watched hope shoot out of their stumps.
Amidst the celebrations – the flurry of tinsel and baubles, the wrapping and roasting, and laughter galore. Amidst the heaviness – the overstretched bank accounts, the to do lists and pressure of portrayals of perfect families. Jesus gives you hope. Where is it that you feel like a lifeless stump? What does your tender shoot of hope look like?
So I pray for every stump. I pray that you’ll invite Jesus to be the living water that soaks your stump. I know that however painful and ugly and harrowing it’s been – you may have been chopped down or simply been slowly decaying – God works all things together for good. Nothing is wasted. That stump will bear fruit, the physical representation of hope. And hope leads to sheer joy.
Romans 5:3-5 “we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us”