Shoots from Stumps


Advent 2A – Shoots from Stumps

December 8, 2013

Matthew 3:1-12

Isaiah 11:1-10

Isaiah says,

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse…”

I don’t know about you,

but when I run across a stump,

I’m not usually thinking, “I wonder what will grow out of that now?”

Instead, frankly if it’s in my own yard, I’m thinking,

“How am I going to get rid of that now?”

Stumps are left over when bad things happen.

They’re left when trees are cut down,

or when they fall from the wind or the rain (and let’s hope not the ice or snow today!)

When I’m on a hike or a walk and I pass by a stump, I’m sometimes a little bit sad –

especially when it’s a great big stump and I can see lots and lots of rings.

Rings which tell its story of years and years of life.

When I see a stump, I think of the life that was, that is no longer;

I’m reminded again of the fragility of life –

that such a thing as strong and as tall and as old and as majestic as a tree                          – can be reduced to a stump.

Isaiah’s hearers understood this sense of the fragility of life.

We’re here in chapter 11 of Isaiah…

At the end of chapter 10,

God declares that the tall trees of Israel will be cut down

and the lofty be brought low.

There will be stumps throughout Israel.

All that will be left of trees that were once so tall,

and  the people who once seemed so powerful, God says, will be stumps.

……“But wait!” Isaiah says.

“That’s not the end,” Isaiah says, “there’s more!”

A shoot will come out of that stump.

Don’t get rid of that stump yet…

New life is yet to come!

Believe it; hope for it; trust in it.

This week, the world paused to remember Nelson Mandela.

I have no idea what sustained him during those 27 years in prison.

The people of black South Africa had been taken down and left for stumps;

The system of apartheid did what it could

to keep them down;

to remove them of their human rights and their dignity;

and too many other nations including our own, accepted it.

But Mandela would not give up

–          even after he was given a life sentence.

He had been cut down and was given no reason to expect that he would ever stand tall again.

Living in a small prison cell,

sleeping on the floor,

with a bucket for a toilet,

and forced hard labor.

He was allowed one visitor for 30 minutes, once a year – once a year!

But the government underestimated the Spirit of God.

God can make a shoot come out from a stump!

God can make something new come from a man sitting in a solitary prison cell for nearly 3 decades.

The miracle is that after 27 years,

Mandela still believed it; he still hoped for it; he still trusted in it.

One of the indignities that blacks in South Africa endured,

was the fact that when they went to school,

English speaking teachers changed their names to something they could pronounce easier.

Mandela was re-named Nelson.

But Mandela’s real name?  His given name?

It was Rolihlahla.


which in Xhosa, one of the official languages of South Africa,

means “pulling the branch of a tree” – or “troublemaker.”

Rolihlahla – helped pulled the branch of the mighty tree of apartheid down

But also, through Mandela – through Rolihlahla

– a branch of a tree was pulled up from a stump.


He became that shoot which refused to stay down,

that shoot which refused to stay cut off, but which was pulled up by God .

They could not keep him down – a shoot grew out from a stump – after 27 years!

You know,  when I pass by a stump on a hike or a walk,

sometimes I’m a bit sad….

but sometimes, I’m a bit relieved…

because it can be a temporary place of rest too.

I told a few of you last night that I like to hike,

and we have a hiking group at church.

Ed is our fearless leader.

He is an enthusiastic and experienced hiker.

(He hiked the Appalachian trail last year.)

It’s great to go on a hike with Ed…

but the problem with having an experienced hiker as a leader –

the issue with having someone who hiked the Appalachian trail pick the routes –

is (you guessed it) – his hikes tend to be a little difficult for most of us ordinary hikers.

Ed’s moving along ahead, enthusiastically scanning the trees for birds to point out;

and the rest of us in back are equally enthusiastically scanning the ground for stumps to sit on!

When we sit on a stump, it’s hard to imagine anything growing out of it.

You and I have all had times we’ve sat on stumps for awhile

– stumps not of our own choosing.

Stumps of disappointment;

Stumps of grief;

Stumps of worry;

And it’s hard to imagine during those times, anything growing out of those stumps.

But Isaiah continues to say to us too…


“That’s not the end – there’s more!”

A shoot will come out of that stump.

New life is yet to come!

Believe it; hope for it; trust in it.

Israel did not know how long it would sit on the stump of exile in Babylon

before a shoot would grow.

Rholilahla Mandela did not know how long he would sit on the stump of his prison cell

before a shoot would grow.

Often we do not know how long we will sit on our own stumps of despair

before a shoot will grow.

But the promise of Advent is that a shoot will grow.

Jesus will come; the kingdom of God – God’s work in the world will be fulfilled.

We too hold to Isaiah’s promise:

A shoot will come out of this stump.

New life is yet to come.

Believe it; hope for it; trust in it.

And so we sing, “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”



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