This time of year, we often go back to the portions of scripture proclaiming the arrival of the Son of God - Jesus. We read the story of his birth, the journey of the magi, and even some of the various prophesies of his promised coming. In most churches, we focus on the nativity scene kind of stories, but not so much the purpose of his coming kind of stories. Today, I'd like us to consider the attributes of the Messiah - his most significant "traits" which made him the perfect sacrifice for our salvation. Our beginning spot is how he is described as a "green shoot". If you have ever seen a plant withered beyond what you thought could ever return any signs of life again, you will get a picture of how scripture describes the circumstances of his birth. His "beginning" was from a "shoot" so dried up, so destitute of any signs of life that most would say there was no hope for "life" to ever be part of it again. The place from which he "sprung" - Israel. The issues with Israel have been pretty well documented in the Old Testament. They have embraced the cultures of the land, taken on the forms of worship which God told them to avoid like the plague, intermarried with those of unlike beliefs and dissimilar values, sold into slavery and passed around to the most powerful armies of the days to be in nothing more than indentured slavery. Kind of a little like their beginning as a nation, huh? Egypt had been their beginning - indentured slavery to the strongest ruler of the time. The Roman Empire had become their present identity as Jesus is about to arrive - indentured once again to the strongest ruler of the region. Pretty "dry" and "withered" roots, indeed.
A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump, from his roots a budding Branch.
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him, the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding, the Spirit that gives direction and builds strength, the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God. Fear-of-God will be all his joy and delight. He won’t judge by appearances, won’t decide on the basis of hearsay. He’ll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth’s poor with justice. His words will bring everyone to awed attention. A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked. Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land. (Isaiah 11:1-5 MSG)
A green shoot is the promise of new life, is it not? When we first see the tender green signs of life, we begin to celebrate the potential of new possibilities. This is probably the most overlooked promise of the stories we tell of his birth during this season - the potential of new possibilities! Not only was he described as a budding shoot, but with deep enough roots for a branch to be produced. The shoot gives indication of the root, and the root describes the potential of the future growth to come. As is so often the case, we look only at what we can immediately see on the surface, forgetting all too easily that nothing on the surface is without some kind of "root" underneath. Whether it is in our own lives, or the life of another, all signs of "surface growth" indicate some type of "root growth" underneath. The possibilities are endless when the roots are solidly planted. The branches produced can be strong and capable of much fruit production. It is the root which determines the strength of the tree, not the branches themselves! So it is as we consider Christ's arrival.
Now, no "green shoot" is ever going to do well without some tending, right? The possibilities proclaimed by the first signs of new life are nothing until there is some nurturing of the growth. I imagine Mary and Joseph felt a little in awe of the new life before them - wiggling fingers, tender toes, gazing eyes, and gurgling little mouth. A babe - yet with so much more potential than they may have thought about at that very moment of his birth. In those seasons of his growth from infantile innocence into the strength of manhood, there "hovered" an ever-vigilant "Spirit". The potential within was being nurtured by the Spirit of God, bringing wisdom and understanding, direction and strength, readiness for the potential to spring into full provision. Even in Jesus' birth and subsequent growth as a child, we see the evidence of how God works with his children - not as a strong-armed disciplinarian, but as a nurturing presence.
As with all signs of new growth, there is a new joy which his arrival seems to produce. After a cold, long winter with barrenness abounding, isn't the first sign of new growth the neatest kind of assurance that the season of barrenness has not become a permanent way of living? I imagine this is the case for a good many of us when we first enter into relationship with Christ - there is just a tremendous amount of joy which wells up within because although there has been such barrenness, signs of new growth are beginning to show through. Where there is hope of change, joy is produced. I wonder if Mary and Joseph knew of the joy this tiny life would produce in the lives of hungry, downcast souls?
Some of the most "under-taught" parts of the "Christmas story" are the attributes of this Savior born a man. The tiny green shoot promised a way of life unlike any other before known. As Jesus would grow up, I wonder how many times Mary and Joseph sat back and marveled at the ways he dealt with his friends in their play and work. When Jesus would reach out to include the outcast child - the one with poor upbringing, simple ways, or withered limbs - were they meditating on his actions and remembering what had been spoken all those years before about their son? You see, the promise was that he would not judge by outward appearances, but would focus on the inner needs of a person. He wouldn't allow the taunting words of those who would speak maliciously behind another's back to be the way he formed opinions of others. He wouldn't see the needy as down on their luck, but would reach out to give them what they were desperate to receive.
As Jesus sat around the dinner table with his siblings and parents, I wonder how many times his words caught them by surprise, almost more because of their caring and compassion than because of their depth or spirituality. Jesus didn't need to impress - he just spoke what was in his heart and that left an impression all its own. As he labored in the garden with his mother, or tinkered in the workshop with is father, I wonder how his hands caressed the tender vegetables and the freshly sawed wood. I cannot help but imagine that the fingers of the Creator of all things even stroked new life into those tender shoots and planks - much like he does as his fingers gently stroke the hurting areas of our lives. He wasn't afraid to pull on his work clothes, roll up his sleeves and get to work - nothing hindered him from being about his heavenly Father's business anymore than things hindered him from being about his earthly family's business.
Maybe we can discover a little more about this Savior as we consider his arrival on this earth during this holiday season. There are many promises of his birth - many discoveries yet to be uncovered by your watchful eyes and open hearts. What you discover may be the beginning of a new shoot within you! Just sayin!