I love the Advent season with its anticipation of great joy just around the corner. Part of the fun for me is considering all the stories and metaphors which draw us toward the baby in the manger – predictions of a special child, Old Testament names of Jesus, the Christmas star, all those proclaiming angels, celebrating with Advent readings and candle-lightings. This past week my pastor preached on one of those images which has always stumped me (pun intended, as you will see). And that is the Messianic title found mostly in Isaiah, Jeremiah and Zechariah, “the righteous Branch.”
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
(Do you get the stump reference now?)
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him —
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (Isa 11:1-2)
This is a many-faceted symbol, but at its root (see, I did it again) it is pretty simple. During the time the prophets were writing, Israel had left the Lord and worshiped other gods. As a result they were driven into exile among other nations, a situation that would continue for hundreds of years, until the birth of Christ. The Kingdom of God seemed to be dead, like a tree that has been cut down, a lifeless piece of wood with no roots, no fruit, no sap, no hope.
In its essence, “the Branch” means new life. “Sprout” might be a better term. Those ancient Israelites would have understood it to mean hope. A dead pole budded once before in Israel’s history when Aaron’s rod, the walking stick he wielded before Pharaoh, grew leaves and flowers and almonds overnight (see Num. 17:1-10). That particular miracle was meant to reveal Aaron as God’s chosen high priest, the man who would represent all others before the Lord. So “the Branch” means that out of death, God creates life through the intervention of His chosen One to represent His people. That One will bear the staff of a shepherd and the rod of a ruler. His power will bring back the glory of a time when God’s Kingdom flourished. What even those Old Testament prophets might not have seen clearly was that the Branch Himself would die, like the nation of Israel, and come to life again.
So what does “the Branch” mean for us this Christmas? We, too, are God’s people in exile. Death seems to reign around us in many ways. We need to be reminded that there is always hope! Jesus is the first-fruit of the tree of life, the root of a vine which offers all of us nourishment. His coming means that redemption is possible anywhere, even when things are dead and dry – because our God is in the resurrection business.
What a hope to celebrate! This year, let us rejoice in the birth of Christ, the living Branch!
Free Advent Devotionals:
Free Family Devotional from Orangewood Church, Maitland, FL (Great for use with elementary kids and older)
John Piper’s Free Advent Devotional (See download link on the left side of this page)
To Think About:
- Have you ever seen a green sprout growing in a place you didn’t expect? (Please REPLY and tell everyone about it!)
- Where do you want to see new life grow around you?
- Write a short prayer thanking God for the gift of redemption and the hope of resurrection.