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The Shoot of Jesse - Isaiah 11: 1 - 10

In the verses immediately before the beginning of that splendid poem that we have just heard, Isaiah was forecasting the fall of the Assyrian empire :

“Look, the sovereign, the Lord of hosts
will lop the boughs with terrifying power.
The tallest trees will be cut down
and the lofty will be brought low.
He will hack down the thickets of the forest with an axe
And Lebanon with its majestic trees will fall”

In the mid 1980’s Frances and I took a trip to Mount St. Helens, much of the area was fenced off but there were roads and footpaths that led you to view points where you could look across at the now topless mountain, gaze at Spirit lake and see the thousands on thousands on thousands of trees lying felled and tossed about just thrown higgledy-piggeldy as if for the start of a giant game of pick-up-sticks. It was beyond anything we had ever seen, the devastation was complete, the volcanic ash everywhere choking the ground, it was indeed a scene of terrifying power, yet in the middle of it all, now quiet and serene was the snow covered mountain perfectly reflected in the now calm blue lake looking for all the world like a Swiss picture postcard.

Mount St. Helens erupted in May 1980, so that is now over thirty years ago, (part of me wishes I hadn’t found that out!) I looked last week at the pictures of the area now and compared them with the ones we took back then: There are still thousands of fallen trees of course but as well there is prairie grass, lupins, red alder, bright firm fluttering foxgloves as well as some animals and large rainbow trout in the lake itself.

“A shoot shall grow out of the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of its roots.”

That word stock is variously translated in different Bibles as stem or sometimes stump - the point is that Isaiah is writing of the time that the Kingdom of Judah was practically eliminated, the glory days of David were over and the people were dispersed in exile in the foreign lands of Babylon with but only a remnant of the memory of nationhood keeping them together. Yet from this devastation from this barrenness will arise a shoot, now of course a shoot is very little thing, and the poet emphasises not only this, but by referring to Jesse, who was David’s father rather than David himself, he reminds us of the humble beginnings of the great dynasty.

In Mount St. Helens, now on the way to becoming a national park the shoots are fabulous, they are not simply tussocks of straggly grass, or thin weedy saplings but beautiful flowers, sparkling fish - nature is returning to the ash covered country in her finery.

And the shoot that will arise from Jesse’s family tree stump will too be magnificent: The Messiah’s qualities are listed, they will be blessed with the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of Wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might. They will rule with absolute justice and because of that the people will be at peace. A peace, so peaceful, that is unimaginable to us :

To try to illustrate the depth, the far reaching nature of that peace Isaiah uses a metaphor - the Lion will non longer devour but shall eat straw like an ox. We will no longer fear death for even the nursing child may play over the hole of the poisonous asp.

In this reflective and penitential season of Advent we are waiting with joy for the fulfilment of Isaiah’s words.

He will come like a shoot, a cotyledon, a gentle humble tender beginning, a presence in the turmoil and brokenness of our world and then, the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

Amen

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