Peace: Week Two – Day Three

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. – Isaiah 11:1 (NRSV)

What a crazy verse to start out week two of Advent. If you haven’t heard this verse before, it’s commonly read in churches in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Though its meaning might be hidden from us, the Jewish people of Jesus’ time considered this a prophecy about their future king.

The key to understanding this verse is to know who in the world this Jesse guy was! If you remember your Old Testament, Jesse was King David’s father. David was the best king Israel ever had, and his family ruled Judah for hundreds of years before the kingdom was destroyed by Babylon. When the text talks about the “stump of Jesse,” it’s referring to David’s family tree, the royal family of God’s people.

Now, if you remember your New Testament, you’ll know that Jesus comes from the house and line of David. He is born in David’s hometown of Bethlehem and is called the King of the Jews. Jesus is Jesse’s great-great-great-great-great grandson, or something like that. The people of Judea had waited for generations for God to regrow the royal family tree, and Jesus is that shoot growing up from Jesse’s stump. In fact, there’s a lot of kingly language in this passage. The Hebrew word for “shoot” can also mean “scepter.” It’s a play on words connecting the symbols of kingship with an image of new growth. Jesus is the shoot rising up to claim the throne of David, ready and eager to extend new life for us. There’s a tradition in some churches to take bare branches and cover them with ornaments representing Jesus. They call these decorations ‘Jesse trees,’ after this passage. Trees are a big part of the Christmas celebration. Maybe you have one in your home right now. We use evergreen trees to remind us of God’s ever-present love for us, even in times of darkness and uncertainty.

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