“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
Jesse – the father of eight sons, the youngest being David whose line is that from which Jesus comes; have a look at Matthew one for the full list!
What’s the stump? Who knows, there were so many times in the history of the Jewish people when the tree was chopped, broken and generally reduced to a stump: Exile, war, assignation, sin – you name it, it's there. Pick a time and you'll find somewhere the ‘stump’ label fits.
But today as we deal with Jesus and prophecy supporting his coming – and this passage is surely one of them as it speaks of the coming of someone who will change everything, what do we have?
The lion and the lamb lying down together – real image or political – who cares? There is an end to war!
There are within the Old Testament forty or so prophesies (my college notes say 44 but I couldn't find the page with the list on to check).
If you posted a letter with just a name and the location on it would it get to the person? The prophesies are a bit like that and yet I had an experience some years back where a letter addressed to "Vic in Tamworth, a Vicar from Ware," made it to my door.
The postman found me because it knew my name, where I was, where I came from and what I did. We know that Jesus is the Christ because we have forty-four (or so) things in the envelope that help,us find Him too!
Paul, as ever, does it different as he talks about what Jesus’ death and resurrection means to us but he does it using the prophets too. Starting with a ‘thumbs up’ to that which was written before, telling us that it was put there for our instruction, to give us encouragement and hope. The ‘us’ here are believers and ‘God fearers’ – this is not, as I have heard some preach it, a supremacist statement regarding ‘the Church’ but is a statement written in awe that so many come under the shadow of the Cross. But there’s more as we read that Jesus, the Christ, “has become a servant of the circumcised.” Paul is His ambassador to the Gentiles (non Jews).
This is something that unites Jews and Gentiles – Jesus has come for all of us – now that's a Christmas present you won’t get at Argos! And Paul points to this by referring to prophecies (which is handy as that's today's focus).
Have you ever thought about the fact that our second coming expectation matches the first coming of the Messiah for the Jews? They won't be missing Him the second time I can guarantee it.
And then, with Paul, the job of bringing Jew and Gentile together into Church, and this needs love and hospitality and stuff, sharing, caring and being one together. Many different strands united in the one (realised) hope in Jesus – identified as followers of the Way. Our goal today as Church too!
So we come at last to the Gospel where John the Baptist gets the spotlight – this always strikes me as odd as next week, being all about him, sort of steals the thunder and gives us a bit of the same feel again next week. Perhaps that's because he's a bit important, more than many think.
The world is in a spot of turmoil as we find Trump, Brexit, Zac Goldsmith losing his seat in Richmond. The stability of the things around us has been shaken and removed. This is surely the time when we need someone coming to call us to change our ways and ‘seek the Lord whilst he may be found’.
A lone voice crying out to someone hoped for, that's what John the Baptist was. But the people were hoping for a Saviour then, and the Messiah and His hope and health-bringing presence were in every Person's psyche and thoughts. My question is, “Aren't they still today?” We just don't realise it!
The problem is that we have turned away from looking to Jesus and now look for this salvation in position, possession and power. We've made Christmas about Christmas, not Jesus, after all we've filled our churches and homes with trees and have probably picked up the Argos catalogue more than we have picked up our Bibles!
Could it be that we are now the people John is calling to repent?
Are we perhaps the brood of vipers that need to be washed clean and start again in our passion with renewed promise to deny ourselves and follow the Christ?
Are our hearts as cold as ice and have we become the Pharisees, that having found in our Bibles, are the people we so often detest?
John is a real partypooper as he appears at our birthday party for Jesus, asking each of us whether we really know Him!
Are we the gatecrashers and John is merely the security seeking to make prophecies real and make us real into the bargain? We want to party – he wants us to acknowledge who we aren't and who Jesus is in our lives so that the Christ’s pardon, won on the cross, might be ours and our hearts His?
A shoot shall come out from the stock 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. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.
The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
As it is written,
‘Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles and sing praises to your name’;
and again he says,
‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people’;
‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him’;
and again Isaiah says,
‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.’
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.
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” ’
Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
‘I baptise you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing-fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing-floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’
purify our hearts and minds, that when your Son Jesus Christ comes again as judge and saviour we may be ready to receive him, who is our Lord and our God.
Post Communion Prayer
Father in heaven, who sent your Son to redeem the world and will send him again to be our judge: give us grace so to imitate him in the humility and purity of his first coming that, when he comes again, we may be ready to greet him with joyful love and firm faith; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.