I served for three and a half years in the Rio Grande Valley and learned just enough about citrus trees to be dangerous. But the first thing I learned as we looked at a beautiful tree loaded with navel oranges in one of my members orchard was that you get “sour oranges” when a severe frost has attacked the tree and reached below the graft line. The stump may come back to life but the lesson learned from experience is that all you will get is “sour oranges,” beautiful to look at but mouth-puckering if you dare eat one.
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.”
Isaiah prophesies in chapter 11, verses 1 and 2 about a better branch that grows out of the stump of the tree of David. The line has faded due to a “freeze out” of the children of Israel and David’s lineage, but the promise of hope becomes powerfully given. In this royal poem, the king will embody all the qualities of an ideal ruler, beginning with wisdom and understanding for all of the situations that those ruled by Him experience. And the Spirit of the King will express itself as a force that enlivens His subjects and that gives energy, power and courage to those who are under his protection.
The end goal of this beneficent ruler is that his subjects will experience “justice.” Signs of all of this include the classic “wolf laying down with the lamb” and other nature balances of the peaceful animal kingdom. Walter Breuggemann, in his writings on Isaiah 1-39, writes, “This poem is about the impossible possibility of the new creation!”
It is hard for us to think of impossible and possible working side by side. We need those nature comparisons. We need much more. We need to have the faith of the season, which challenges our thinking to listen to Mark 10:24b-27, which states, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for with God all things are possible.”
Advent and Christmas help us to deal with the impossible and to change. Join with me in a Christmas pledge: “Believing in the true spirit of Christmas, I commit myself to: remember those people who truly need my gifts, express my love in more direct ways than gifts, examine my holiday activities in the light of my deepest values, be a peacemaker within my circle of family and friends, and rededicate myself to my spiritual growth.” (Pledge first proposed by Jo Robinson and Jean Coppock Staeheli in The Leaders Guide to the Unplug the Christmas Machine Workshop).