Surviving the failure of God--II

Week 13, Day 3

For December 3

Isaiah 11. 1-10; Luke 1. 26-38

The full text for this week is given below.

Isaiah 11. 1—A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The Isaiah passage for this week begins with the subtle admission that God has failed. Or that, to all appearances at least, God has failed. The tree of Jesse, the lineage of the father of King David, has been cut down and probably burned up or left to rot on the ground. A stump sticking up out of the ground—this stump anyway, since this is the eternal kingdom of God’s own people we’re talking about, is the very image of broken promises and lost hope.

Luke’s account of the Annunciation, if you look just under the surface, carries similar sensibilities. Here Israel is not held captive in a foreign land, as Joseph and Mary’s ancestors had been. They are imprisoned in their own homeland; pinned down by the vicious iron fist of the malevolent empire—Rome. When Gabriel is sent to find someone who will work with God to bring redemption and restoration to Israel he doesn’t go to Jerusalem, the seat of the government and the home of the temple. Maybe he can’t go there—maybe there’s no one in Jerusalem who is up to the task at hand.

No, Gabriel goes to a little backwater village called Nazareth. To a young virgin named Mary who is engaged to be married to a poor carpenter named Joseph. There is no more apparent promise in this unlikely pair than there is in that stump sticking out of the ground.

Welcome to Advent. The season of the church year that reminds us what each of us knows, but aren’t often willing to confess or face: that trust is hard; that hope is unlikely; that failure is probable; that the future is cut off.

But wait—because the Advent story turns in our favor.

Welcome to Advent. The season in the church year when new truth is spoken into our darkness. The truth that trust is a gift to be received; that hope is hard but attainable; that failure is not in God’s plan; that the future God dreams is beyond our imagination.

This is true: that old stump is nowhere near dead. “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 Holy Spirit comes upon (her), and the power of the Most High overshadows (her)”This is true: poor Mary’s womb is spacious. It will to carry the gift of Divine Presence; delivering that Presence into the very darkness we inhabit when.

Welcome to Advent.

Prayer: Advent is a mystery, Loving God. We can’t begin to plumb its depths, but we do glimpse its light. Grant us the gift of trust; save us from the need to understand. Amen.

Isaiah 11.1-10

1 A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

2 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.

3 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;

4 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.

5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6 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.

7 The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

9 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.

10 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.

Luke 1: 26-38

26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’ 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ 34 Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ 35 The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.’ 38 Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

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