Years ago I went to Vancouver to witness the wedding of a young man from the parish. In those days whenever I traveled I took two things with me – the holy oils and my golf clubs. Luckily I never had to use the holy oils but the golf clubs were another matter. After the wedding I spent some time with the groom’s parents. One day we went golfing outside White Rock.
Right in the middle of one of the fairways was the stump of a giant tree that had been felled years ago. This stump was at least 20 feet in diameter and was 10 feet high. From this supposedly dead stump another tree had grown to almost 20 feet high. It was quite a sight. Every year when we read this reading from Isaiah the memory of that stump and the new life that sprung from it comes to my mind. It is a symbol, a reminder that new life, new possibilities can come from even the most dire of circumstances.
Isaiah lived and wrote in a very troubled time. The people to whom Isaiah preached and wrote lived in the midst of political unrest plus the fear of foreign invasion. Religious indifference was rampant and religious observance was a sham. Isaiah compared it all to the stump of a cut down tree. But for him it was not a hopeless situation. He saw new life springing from what should have been a lifeless stump.
That new life springing from that lifeless stump would be blessed with the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and awe of God and all these would prevail in the lives of all who would be open to such gifts. In the new life springing from that lifeless stump there will be the unbelievable harmony between opposites – between wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, calf and lion. In that new life springing from that lifeless stump the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
St. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that all the scriptures, and he was writing about the Old Testament, were written for our instruction so that by the steadfastness and the encouragement of the scripture we might have hope. This is doubly true for us, blessed as we are with the gospels and the epistles.
There can be times when our lives or relationships or our spiritual life can feel like a lifeless stump. Our health, our marriage, our job and financial security, our sense of anything religious – all these can seem life-less, we find no vitality, no excitement in anything. But the lessons of our scripture tell us just the opposite – did not the Christ have to suffer and so enter into his glory?’ There can be and there often are times in our lives when we just experience downers. But we know too that that’s not the whole story. We’ve been there before and things have turned around. We’ve not given up, we’ve worked things through and for the most part we’ve been better for it.
If we find that there are dead stumps in our lives may our gracious God give us the grace to see the possibilities for live and growth within them and have the trust to allow that grace and growth to come forth.
In all our times of struggle and doubt may we be grace to know the presence of God in our lives. This is the season of Emmanuel – God is with us.