There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and 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 of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—
of him shall the nations inquire,
and his resting place shall be glorious. (Isaiah 11:1-5, 10 ESV)
Today it was the story of the trees and the branches that brought me to my knees. This plan that God in His wonderful heart had conceived even as He set that fateful tree in the midst of Eden. The roots of a family tree that would bring forth His Son. A tree of life and knowledge set in that Garden in the beginning (Genesis 2:9), a blood-stained Tree upon which the Son would hang to rescue and redeem the same ones who partook of Eden’s Tree against His will, and a Tree of Life (Rev 22:2) in the new Eden when Heaven and its King are at last here on the earth – this Tree that will bring healing to all the nations, this Branch who will rule and reign forever. The roots of humanity, perfect and good when He first breathed His breath into the dust, grew all crooked-like into a massive family tree of broken and dying branches. And it was here, out of this fragmented and barren tree, that a Shoot came forth to save us all. In the barrenness of the bleak midwinter (also called the fullness of time), from that mighty tree with bare and broken branches all covered in snow, the Life-Giver came forth. The Righteous Branch. The Root, the Maker of the trees, is now the Branch who makes things right for us. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last Word.
He is a poet, this God of ours. Painting us a picture of His heart spanning across time into eternity through every word, every act, and through all that He has made. Oh give us eyes to see, Lord. But the fullness of the revelation of God came through the Word. The Word who gives definition to the Unsearchable One. The Word who communicates the Indescribable One. The Word who became flesh so that we could truly understand Him and know His heart. The Word came near. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He spoke, He moved and walked among us, He had hands and feet that we could touch and be touched with, He sat at the table and invited us to feast with Him and to know and love Him. This is what John was trying to say to us about Jesus in John 1 and in his first epistle…
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth…No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:1-3, 14, 18 ESV)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you… (1 John 1:1-3 ESV)
If every part of the life of the Word made flesh is revelation into who God is and will always be, then even those first words of the first Gospel mean something. And that is what struck me most today. This family tree of God in the flesh, the roots of the tree and all its branches. The tree that would bring forth the Righteous Branch. Even here in this list of names at the beginning of the story, God is telling us something about Himself.
He didn’t have to come this way. He didn’t have to come through the womb of a woman. He could have come any way He wanted. And if He was going to come as a baby, He didn’t have to choose Mary or Joseph or their family trees. But He did. God chose not only to reveal Himself this way, but to actually clothe Himself in the flesh of Mary’s family line. Why? When we read through the genealogy found the first pages of Matthew or the third chapter of Luke, we find more than a list of names. We find stories of real people. Weak and broken people. And He made sure we knew them all. Their stories had been passed down from generation to generation so that at the fullness of time when God would come, we would be able to look at His story woven into theirs and understand something about Him that we didn’t see before.
We could take Adam or Noah or Abraham or David or Solomon or any of these infamous men who knew God in the days of old. But it’s the women that God made sure to include in Matthew’s list of names that leave me breathless. Tamar… a woman who dressed as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into giving her a child that was promised but left wanting as a result of the wickedness of Judah’s sons and because even Judah didn’t keep his word. Tricksters and promise-breakers, yet included in the God-Man’s family tree. Rahab… an actual prostitute and a foreigner who would somehow decide to save the lives of the Israelite spies. A foreign harlot grafted into the fold of Israel who would eventually give birth to the faithful and righteous Boaz. Which brings us to Ruth… another foreigner and pagan who left all she had ever known to follow her mother-in-law and left us with those wonderful words spoken to Naomi, “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” A foreigner who would marry the son of another foreigner, once a harlot, and would become the great-great (and many greats) grandmother of the God Most High, however that works. And then we have the “wife of Uriah” also known as Bathsheba… an adulterer, a betrayer, a woman who would have been scorned in any other story, but somehow ends up the wife and mother of kings… and the great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother of the King of Kings. This is the family line that God wanted us to know about when beginning the story of God in the flesh. This the introduction to the unveiling of the Face of God in Christ Jesus. He could have left those names off the list. He could have left them out of the family line long before the list was ever going to be recorded. But this is His story, His life, His heart… and He wove every little part of it together for a reason. The good, the bad, and the ugly all tangled together in a great, big Tree. And from there, the Promised One, the branch and the root of David, came forth.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ (Jeremiah 23:5-6 ESV)
Out of (and into) the broken and the mundane, His Majesty came. And by His Spirit, He still comes today. We can know Jesus and love Him now in the midst of the broken and the not quite right, and our hearts are filled with inexpressible hope because He is coming back and we will finally be face to face with God. All of the mundane will once again be majestic. The Righteous Branch will rule and reign out of Zion and He will make all things new.
Advenio, the Latin verb for Advent, translates to, “I arrive. I come. I am coming.” And on this first day of Advent, Jesus came to a little heart in a living room in Grandview all lit up by Christmas lights and filled with reminders of this God who comes so near and loves so much. Here in the midst of the chaos of a toddler tearing ornaments off of a Christmas tree and boys screaming for the football players running up and down the field across the screen, even here in the mundane of meal-making and cleaning and laundry and football, Jesus opened up His heart today. And my heart is filled with love for a Branch that came forth from such a broken and ugly tree, with worship for a God who met me here in the middle of my living room through the pages of His story and by His Spirit, and with hope that this Marvelous Story isn’t over yet…