Friday, November 25, 2016

Year A, Advent 2, Isaiah 11:1-10, The Remnant

Isaiah 11:1-2

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

Grief and hope.
A stump, yet with a shoot coming out of it.
A branch growing where once there was a tree.

The problem with living the new life that is ours in Christ Jesus, is that the first reality with which we must contend, is how much of our former self has been lost.  

One of the hardest themes in the Old Testament to embrace is that of "the Remnant".  Isaiah writes in Chapter 10:21-22 "A remnant will return, the remnant of Jacob, to the mighty God. For though your people Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will return. Destruction is decreed, overflowing with righteousness."  That the people will one day return from Exile is a good thing.  But, only a remnant.  

Small consolation to those interned in the Nazi concentration camps, that a remnant would one day survive, and be set free.  

On a lessor note, we live with the reality of a declining Church.  During the Baby Boom years the church appeared to be thriving.  Churches built.  Education wings were full of kids.  The future looked bright.  But only a remnant returned.

And yet there is hope.  A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.  

In the wake of the holocaust, the nation of Israel was reborn.  

And perhaps much of what we've come to love about the Church must be pruned away, that the Church might re-emerge to bear witness in a new day.

Were I a Jewish person, I might interpret this passage from Isaiah as pointing to the rebirth of Israel.  As a Christian, I've been taught to see it as a prophecy regarding Christ as God's messiah.

In either case, there is a promise that what is to come will be greater than that which has been lost.  

But first we must grieve that which is lost.  

When a spouse dies, especially a young spouse, there is so much grief over all that has been lost.  Life as we envisioned it comes to an end.  And yet, there is so much of life  yet to be lived.  So much goodness yet to be experienced.  There is reason to hope.  

This is the tension associated with the theme of the "Remnant".  Can we cling in hope to the promises of God, even as we experience debilitating grief over what is lost?

In Ezra 3 the following experience is recorded as the temple was being rebuilt where once the old temple stood:

"And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far away."

The people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of people's weeping.  A remnant shall return, but only a remnant.  A shoot shall come out from the stump, but there is that stump.  Mixed emotions.  

And a test of our faith.

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