LCMS Singapore Mission
Once there was a tree, a mighty tree. It grew and thrived in the land. The tree was known amongst all the nations for its glory and majesty. The tree stood for its nation, and the people thrived in its shadow. It bore the fruit of peace, and they had rest from their enemies. And it was a godly tree, a tree after God's own heart. A tree that held so much promise. Indeed, the Lord promised that the house of this tree would be established forever.
But there was a rot in the tree. There was a sickness within that would bring death to the tree. Then the tree was cut down. Peace failed. The fruits and leaves withered. And all that was left was a stump. It seemed that all hope was dashed. It seemed that nothing was left but death. A lifeless, worthless stump.
The tree is the house and lineage of King David, the son of Jesse. David ruled around 1000 years before Christ's birth, and oversaw a time of peace and prosperity unparalleled for the Israelite people. Through David, God brought victory over the Philistines, Israel's old enemy. Through David, the borders of the land were expanded and Israel enjoyed national prominence like never before. And through David's son, Solomon, the world saw human wisdom like it had never seen, and the borders extended and the prosperity grew. Solomon even built a mighty temple, a house, for the Lord. The ark of the covenant would have a permanent home among God's people.
But there was trouble in David's house. Conflict among David's children. Solomon's heirs would divide the kingdom in two. Successive kings would follow, alternating in various degrees of faithfulness and unfaithfulness until finally each kingdom fell to an outside enemy. Assyrians. Babylonians. It all came crashing down. And when the remnant of the Jews finally returned to their land, they had no king. Their position was precarious, and more invaders, foreigners would come. The people languished in expectation that one day, David's throne would be restored. One day, a savior would come. One day, as Isaiah had prophesied, a shoot would come forth from the stump of Jesse.
And then this stump the Lord brought forth a shoot. A small green sprig, appearing at just the right time. A tender young growth, of the same nature as the stump but also somehow, something more. As the shoot from the stump of Jesse grew in knowledge and fear of the Lord, the crowds began to gather around in hopeful expectation that the tree had once been lost would stand tall in the land again. Peace, prosperity, hope – could it be that this new growth was the reversal of fortunes we have waited for?
It is Advent. We wait for Christ, much like the people standing at the stump of that ancient tree. Perhaps we, too, had our hopes up for something great, something wonderful, something God had promised... and it seems to have all come crashing down. Perhaps we are even the ones holding the axe, with a guilty look on our faces and a heavy heart weighed down by the rot within us. Things haven't turned out the way we planned, or hoped, or wanted. And truth be told, we bear the blame for what goes awry in our lives as much as anyone.
We are children of Adam and Eve, who stood at another tree and saw everything come crashing down. It was their prideful sin that did it. They lost their home in paradise. The saw death and suffering come into the world. Joyful things like work and childbirth became a burden. Their tree from here would show its rotten roots, as each generation was brought forth in Adam's image, fruit of the poisoned tree of his sin. And bearing sinful fruit of our own.
But then one came who was somehow unspoiled, untainted by this disease. He came from heaven above, though born one of us. The Son of God and Son of Man. He came to fulfill all hopes. To restore what was lost. To bring life to the lifeless, hope to the hopeless. He is the new shoot from the stump of the dead tree whose roots go far deeper than Jesse.
And Christ does all of this by another tree. A gnarled and grizzled old cross-bar to which his hands and feet were nailed. An instrument of death for the worst of the worst, thieves, murderers, rebels. And it probably seemed on that day that once again the hopes for salvation were being cut down once again, that another lifeless stump would be all that remained of Jesus the great teacher and miracle worker.
But it was not so. For on the third day far more than a stump remained, and far greater than just a mere shoot. A glorious resurrection followed that brought life and immortality to light for you and me. Christ by his tree of cursed suffering and his resurrection in glory – he becomes for us the tree of life. He restores what was lost in Eden and so much more. Peace, prosperity, honor, righteousness, even eternal life.
In him we have the Spirit of the Lord, the wisdom and counsel and knowledge and fear of the Lord.
He is our righteous judge who has rendered our verdict – not guilty, by his blood.
His word strikes the earth in judgment for the wicked and in eternal glory for the righteous. And though now we see in part, by faith, then we will see fully the restoration of paradise – as even the animals who were at odds are brought to terms of peace again in the new creation.
We wait for his coming. We wait in faith, in hope, with peace. We wait, knowing he who planted the garden of paradise is he who promises paradise to the thief on the cross, and to all of us thieves and murderers and tree choppers. His cross stands as signal to the nations – salvation is ours in Christ. So come, Lord Jesus, Amen.