Advent 2A’22
4 December 2022
Isaiah 11.1-10; Romans 15.4-13
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy spirit. Amen.

Growing up in Jonesboro I can remember several winters where there were ice storms. The wintry precip would fall and it would coat the tree limbs, and power lines. We would lose power, due to powerlines breaking and we would lose quite a few trees. Most of the pine trees would bend over with the weight of the ice but the hardwood trees would generally break. Huge limbs would fall on cars, smashing them and giving insurance adjusters lots of work to do. The old oak limbs would fall on houses and crash through rooves.

After the thaw there would be more than a few Saturday mornings interrupted at ungodly hours by the sounds of chain saws cutting up the fallen limbs. After the clean up what was left but a bunch of old tree stumps.

Tree stumps were harder to deal with, some folks would hollow them out and make planters out of them, others would attach chains and hitch them up to trucks and pull them out, some would attempt to grind them down so they would be level with the ground, and some bought poison to try and kill it with. The stumps that remained were relics indicating that there once was a living tree there. The point, stumps weren’t good for much, that is unless you were an Old Testament prophet looking for a good metaphor for the New thing God was planning on doing.

Around my neighborhood I also noticed something that happened to the stumps that were simply left alone – in time, they would sprout! Green,  spindly, fledgling shoots would sprout from the top of the stump, that would eventually re-grow a new tree! This was a symbol Isaiah could make use of in his prophecy: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”[1]

God’s timing is seldom as quick as we would like it to be, and God’s victories are more of a slow burn, rather than an explosion.  Isaiah’s prophecies were made some 700 years before Christ’s birth. A lot of pieces were going to have to fall into place before they could finally be fulfilled.

After 700 years the mighty prophet, John the Baptist, like a proverbial ‘Rip Van Winkle’ finally wakes up and appears on the scene to wake up the people and proclaim the message that the New Thing God was going to do was imminent: “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  But no human, or human institution would be in control of this New Thing God was doing after a 700 year wait. The New Thing would require something that most humans are allergic to – Change! The New Thing would require real Change.

Right out of the gate, John encounters the people who stand to lose the most if the change really happened, and he calls them out, when he sees the Pharisees and the Sadducees (the highly religious of the day) he says: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” These were the stakeholders of the ways of the past, the old order where the worldview was quite simple consisting of only two groups of people – there were the Jews, God’s chosen people, and there were the Gentiles, those pagans who worshiped many gods or none, who had not been chosen as God’s people.  

This old order of things was Isaiah’s ‘old stump’ from which a new shoot would emerge, and in this New Order, God, out of many tribes and nations, would make into one people. Through the birth, death, and resurrection of his Son, God would make God’s ultimate truth known that in this New Order there would no longer be two groups, Jews or Gentiles, but ALL would be  One in Christ, ALL are subjects of the Most High and children of God – ALL are chosen!

‘Ooops! You just lost me there,’ said the Pharisees (the insiders), ‘we have a good thing going here, and we don’t need to bring in the riff raff, those outsiders, pagan Gentiles, who eat things that are unclean like pigs, and shrimp, and have no sense of decorum. They can’t possibly be chosen by God.’ God was about to give out to everyone (both the insiders and the outsiders)  a free ‘get out of jail card,’ and give out free memberships in God’s family, regardless of their heritage or ethnicity, to anyone who was willing to repent, and to accept the gift.

As the revelation that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, took hold in the early Church, St. Paul attempts to put all these pieces together in his letter to the first Christians in Rome that were made up of both Jews, and Gentiles. He does this by quoting from the all-major categories of the Old Testament, the Law, the Prophets and the other writings that foretold the new thing God was doing:

          “Therefore, I will confess you among the Gentiles,

          And sing praises to your name.”

         “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

          “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,

           And let ALL the peoples praise him.”


Then he speaks about Isaiah’s old stump – the old thing from which God’s New Thing would emerge:

“The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

Gentile means “nation” and Gentile, the plural means “nations.” God’s plan from the beginning was for there to be One people, with no divisions between the chosen and the unchosen, the clean, and the unclean. For those insiders who were invested in the old system that divided everyone into separate groups this was definitely not good news, but to the poor, the broken, the low born, the least, and the lost (the outsiders) this was extremely Good News – they too were God’s favorites!  There was no group of people God didn’t like!

It is Advent in the Church and it is Advent at St. Luke’s, God once again is doing a new thing, the God of steadfastness and encouragement is bringing us hope, so that we might be a people of hope, in a place of hope, living in harmony with one another. As the pandemic continues to clear God is already doing this work among us. At times it has looked rather like a stump rather than a tree. Many of my colleagues at the recent clergy conference pretty much all said the same thing, “not everybody has come back to church yet.” While we don’t know what the future holds, we know the One who does and because of that fact we have hope. In spite of everything, people have been coming back to church, not in droves, but perhaps like the sprouts in Isaiah’s stump;

and God has sent us some new people, who have enthusiastically joined us –

Listen to St. Paul’s encouraging words in The Message:

“May our dependably steady and warmly personal God develop maturity in you so that you get along with each other as well as Jesus gets along with us all. Then we’ll be a choir – not our voices only, but our very lives singing in harmony in a stunning anthem to the God and Father of our Master Jesus! So reach out and welcome one another to God’s glory…

And here the translation continues with the songs of worship:

Then I will join outsiders in a hymn sing: I’ll sing to your name!

Outsiders and insiders rejoice together!

People of all nations, celebrate God!

All colors and races, give hearty praise!

There’s the root of our ancestor Jesse, breaking

Through the earth and growing tree tall,

Tall enough for everyone everywhere to see and take hope!

Oh! May the God of green hope fill you up with joy,

Fill you up with peace,

So that your believing lives, filled with the

Lifegiving energy of the Holy Spirit,

Will brim over with hope![2]

Let it be, dear Lord, let it be!


[1] Isaiah 11.1 NRSV

[2] Peterson, Eugene, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language (NavPress) from Romans 15