Advent 2 – A reflection on Isaiah 11:1-9
Today I was getting into knots, six sets of Christmas Tree lights refused to be set free into their separate strands, and thus be useful. In frustration I even threw them on the floor, which strangely released two sets of the lights. Patient working released another pair, but the final pair have remained stubbornly entwined. I cannot see the end from the beginning.
Sometimes we think we know what something should look like. I thought these Christmas lights would be a single long strand of lights, instead they are a long loop with two wires entering the plug, making a large circle of lights. It was not what I was expecting.
In the book of Samuel, we have the story of Samuel being told by God to anoint the next king of Israel. All Samuel knows is that the new king would be a son of Jesse. The story in 1 Samuel 16 reads like a beauty pageant, with Jesse’s tall, strapping sons standing in a line. As he goes down the line God whispers that each of these fine young men are not God’s chosen one. Eventually God reminds Samuel that he sees the heart, not the outer appearance. Samuel has to learn not to ‘judge by what his eyes see or decide by what his ears hear’ (Is.11:3). Having exhausted all of Jesse’s sons who were standing to attention, Samuel asks, is there anyone else? There is. David, the youngest, perhaps the runt of the litter, not much older than a child. This of course as we read in the story is God’s chosen and anointed ruler of Israel.
Who God chooses to lead isn’t always who we think would be the leader. Who would have thought that Jesse’s youngest son would be king, who would have thought that a baby born in Bethlehem and brought up in the backwater that was Nazareth, was God’s anointed Son, the long-promised Messiah. By the time Isaiah was writing the prospect of a descendent of Jesse being on the throne of a united Israel was almost hopeless, Assyria was expanding her empire and devouring the northern country of Israel; Judah would be next to succumb to the greed of the Babylonian empire. It all looked hopeless. Yet. Yet. Here is God’s promise that a descendent of Jesse, a shoot from the stump, would come.
In Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, there is a similar tale. The kings of Gondor have long gone, there is no known rightful descendent of Isildur. Yet there is a promise, that an heir of Isildur will come and bring peace, the sword that was broken would be reforged. Without giving spoilers, the king of Gondor is not immediately obvious.
Isaiah describes the promised heir of Jesse with words that we later closely associate with Jesus, who judges with righteousness, and exemplifies faithfulness. We note how the Spirit rests on Jesus at his baptism, how Jesus proclaims God’s anointing in Luke 4 (echoing Isaiah 61) and finally we have the promise of a united and peaceful earth.
The last verses in this passage describe God’s earth as it should be, a place of safety, peace, well-being, and ‘full of the knowledge of the Lord’, a place where God’s rule of love is paramount. And who leads the animals, the lion and the lamb? A little child. Not who we would expect, not a strong warrior, skilled hunter, animal trainer, but a child.
In God’s kingdom things are never quite as we expect. God sees things as they really are, not as we would like to see them. God sees the end from the beginning, and I am sure that God knows how to unravel those Christmas Tree lights, even if I am still tied up in knots.