Advent 2A – Hope – A Shoot Will Grow
Isaiah promises “a shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse.”
But there’s a problem.
The stump is dead…
Jesse is dead.
His son King David is dead.
And now Jerusalem has been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar
And David’s descendent on the throne, King Zedekiah is dead too.
The people have been taken into exile in Babylon.
But then the prophet offers a word of hope.
“A shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse,” he says.
From this stump (indicate stump in worship space)…
A shoot will grow.
Isaiah promises growth in unexpected places.
The biologists here may not have been surprised,
But I was surprised to read in the Washington Post this week
that a fence has just been built in Hawaii
around Mauna Loa, the largest volcano in the world.[i]
The reason the fence has been built
Is to keep out cats…
who in turn have been preying on the Petrel,
an endangered seabird which nests on Mauna Loa.
To protect the petrels, the National Park Service and other organizations
spent nearly four years flying in people and materials to build the cat-proof barrier.
It’s six feet high and is thought to be the
longest cat fence in the world!
The fence isn’t what surprises me though…
It’s the birds who breed in the midst of a volcano.
Petrels spend most of their time at sea,
But in April they prepare a nest
choosing of all places – the cracks and crevices of the lava on the volcano.
In June the birds lay a single egg in the nest
and the parents take turns incubating the egg
until the chicks hatch in August.
Once hatched, they stay on the volcano until November
when they fly away.
Growth comes in unexpected places.
New chicks born in the midst of the blackened lava of a volcano.
From this stump, Isaiah says,
A shoot will grow.
There are three stories on the Carpenter Shelter website at the moment.[ii]
They are the stories of Sandy, Linda, and Jeff
(their names have been changed for privacy.)
I don’t know what it really feels like
When life hits you and you arrive at a shelter…
For some there’s probably a sense of relief and safety;
But there’s also probably also a sense of loss –
the loss of freedom and independence.
After looking at the pictures,
and reading Sandy, Linda, and Jeff’s stories,
I do have a better sense of what it’s like to leave a shelter
and move into your own place again.
They are proud! They have worked hard!
Sandy started working on a childcare degree while getting a full time job
In a restaurant on the evening shift so she could care for her 3 children.
She moved from the shelter into an apartment.
At the shelter, Linda began recovery from domestic violence,
And received financial assistance while working full time
and caring for her 4 children.
Her family moved from the shelter into a townhouse.
While living at the shelter, Jeff got a higher paying job, worked over 60 hours/week,
and saved $1200 for his own apartment.
Sandy, Linda, and Jeff all did this within a few months!
When they arrived at the shelter,
I don’t know if they thought that growth was even possible.
But for sure, they left knowing
The fact that a shoot can grow from a stump.
Growth is possible.
As Barbara Lundblad says, [iii]
“We often decide too soon where things can’t grow.
“Surely not there!” we say.
The rock is too hard, the stump too dead.
There are times when we assume whole groups of people cannot grow or thrive.”
I was at a meeting this week of a group
Which has the unfortunate name of:
The “Ad Hoc Working Group to Improve Quality of Life in the North End”
The North End is a diverse community.
There are those whose families have lived in the neighborhood for years,
And those who have lived there a couple of years and intend to move on.
There are those who paid over a million dollars for their townhomes,
And those who live across the street in subsidized housing.
There are cultural differences as well…
A woman told the story that one neighborhood association had made a rule that
Residents were not allowed to sit outside on their porches.
That rule affected a whole segment of the community
For whom porch sitting with the neighbors
Was a nightly ritual.
The city manager put this working group together
In response to recent shootings in the neighborhood.
Yet another homicide – the 3rd this year – occurred this week.
The ad hoc group includes residents, city officials,
Businesses, police officers, and the faith community.
There was energy in the room.
Some of the energy was from disagreement for sure…
But most of the energy was from commitment…
To show that mixed income neighborhoods can work.
And not only work, but they can thrive.
That it’s a good thing when people who are different
Live and work and go to school together.
That developing relationships with those who are different from us
That when we get to know each other,
Barriers break down, fear and suspicion breaks down,
And peace is possible.
That living in a diverse community
Is not just circumstance,
But can be a choice – a positive choice.
Hope is stubborn..
It is a bird laying an egg in a volcano;
It is a single mother living in a shelter;
It is a family choosing to live with difference.
“A shoot will grow from the stump of Jesse.”
If you are wondering if a shoot will grow
from the stump of despair or loneliness or worry you’re sitting on,
God’s Advent promise for you
Is that a shoot will grow for you too.
Wait for it.
O come, green shoot of Jesse, free
Your people from despair and apathy;
Forge justice for the poor and the meek,
Grant safety for the young ones and the weak.
Rejoice, rejoice! Take heart and do not fear,
God’s chosen one, Immanuel, draws near.