A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
~ Isaiah 11:1
Today begins the liturgical season of Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas. It is the more upbeat of the two seasons for penitence, the other being Lent. Both are periods of reflection and heart-searching, taking extra time to ask the Spirit to identify areas of darkness within us so that we may receive the Light of Christ and rejoice all the more on its culminating holiday.
As Christmas is the celebration of Emmanuel, God with us, Advent is a time to explore the parts of our lives and world where we feel God’s absence and desire for Him to show up. It arises from the experience of the Jews as they waited for over 400 years during the interim between hearing God through the prophets, and then hearing nothing until the birth of Christ. That is almost twice as long as the United States has been an established nation. Four centuries of silence…of seeming absence. Thankfully we know the end of the story and the coming of a Messiah that would change everything once and for all. A Messiah who did not disappoint even the highest hopes of His people. It is this realized hope that gives us the courage to face and confront the things in our lives that are not as they should be.
This year in particular it’s easy to see the darkness and sense of absence. Violent conflicts and illness seem rampant around the world, and the division and pain of racism is very fresh in our national experience. Ferguson has forced us to ask the question: has anything really changed? Can things really be better? Violence against women and sexual violence on our college campuses feels like another struggle that may never change. Where society has advanced in one area, we step back in another. There are also countless personal challenges that we each face, some known only to us. There may be rifts in relationships, financial anxiety and a cycle of debt, loneliness, depression, patterns of sin. We each likely have at least one area of life that feels desolate and cut off.
Advent allows us to be honest about these places of decay and the temptation to hopelessness. Isa. 11:1 depicts Israel’s feeling of being a stump, a people cut off from growth and flourishing. A stump is not the picture of a bright future. But the kind of Messiah we know and anticipate can bring life from death. There is no area of the creation too lifeless for the power of God’s presence to resurrect. Just as the Israelites waited in 400 years of silence and received a Savior beyond their highest hopes, so we wait for Christ to continue to restore all areas of His creation. This Advent, bring the most hopeless parts of your life and experience to Christ and ask Him to make Himself known in a way that you could never anticipate.
“O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”