Barren | Friday, December 7
Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-3
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots, a branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.”
When Isaiah experienced his vision of a fruit-bearing branch springing forth from a long-forsaken tree, it had been a long time since the Hebrew people heard a Word from the Lord. The era of great prophets like Elijah and Samuel had long since passed. Gone too, were the great kings and patriarchs. The people’s longing for the eternal Kingdom was arrested by the constant threat of the Assyrian and Babylonian empires. Against these powers, the glory days of Israel must have seemed like a distant memory.
The prophet captures this feeling by describing Israel as a great tree that had been chopped down by invading armies and hard times. The lean years spent awaiting a king that would return Israel to her former prominence had exhausted the people financially, emotionally, and spiritually. There seemed to be no hope on the horizon—no vision of a future in which God would be unmistakably present. But in those tense years when the noise of external concerns worked to drown out the music of the heavens, God was preparing his people to receive a different kind of vision and to hear his voice in quieter tones. Hope would not arrive with crashing cymbals or dramatic flourish. The hope of the world would emerge slowly with the steady force of new life breaking through the husk of a barren place.
Like in Isaiah’s time, the tragedies unfolding around the world can give us feelings of hopelessness. In the weeks leading up to this Advent season, wildfires laid waste to countless acres of California’s forests—thousands of homes and dozens of lives were lost amidst the flames. We prayed God’s mercy over the families of the victims of mass shootings in Pittsburgh and Thousand Oaks. The reminders are ever-present that we live in a world where things are not as they are meant to be. The questions that follow are inevitable: If God has come in Jesus Christ, why do things remain as they are? Where is God when tragedy strikes and why does it seem to strike so often? These are not just Advent questions. God’s people have been asking them from the beginning.
Isaiah’s vision expresses our longing for the lasting peace that is only possible through the one who will rule with righteousness and mercy. We live in the space between what is and what is promised. We are located on the edge of the prophet’s vision at the juncture of two ages: the approaching winter where the world is frozen in sin and death, awaiting a word of hope; and the age to come from which “yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” But unlike Isaiah, we have seen the one who is to come and he has shown the way ahead, through the snow drifts to the place where new life springs from the earth.
Silence for Reflection
• When have you waited for something with great expectancy? Where did you sense God’s presence in the midst of your waiting?
• What are the places toward which you look for hope?
Prayer for the Day:
Lord Jesus, we rejoice that you have conquered the power of sin and death and made clear the way for us to experience the newness of life. Give me the courage to choose hope. As I prepare for your arrival, help me to remember with thanks the reality that you have come to restore all things and cause new life to spring from barren ground. To you, the one who conquers every fear, I pray. Amen.