This past Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent.  Instead of kicking off the Advent season with a story of Mary, or of Joseph, or of any number of people surrounding the birth of Jesus, our church decided to start with Isaiah 11—the story of a stump.

Isaiah 11:1 says, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”

The rest of the chapter goes on to speak about the incredible peace that will be established by the one who is symbolized by the shoot, making it clear that the shoot represents Jesus the Messiah.

I think one of the reasons this passage seems so perfect to begin Advent this year is because, quick frankly, the year 2020 has given us a lot of stumps, hasn’t it?

It was almost as if in January and February of this year we had a great tree of optimism and potential growing proudly.  And then March hit, and it was like someone took an axe and straight-up cut our tree down.  All we were left with was a stump.

But if we learn anything from Isaiah 11—and if we’ve had the wisdom to learn anything from the year 2020—it’s that we serve a God of redemption, a God of resurrection, a God of new life. 

God looks at something like a stump—at the things that we’ve already written off as dead—and God says, “Watch me.  Watch what I can do with this.  I know you’ve already given up on this.  I know that all you see is a stump.  But watch me.  Watch the new life I can bring out of this.”

This Advent season is going to look drastically different than any other Advent we’ve ever experienced, which leaves us with a choice to make: 

Will we write off Advent 2020 as a lost cause, something that is already doomed from the get-go, a stump?  Or will we choose to trust that God has the potential to bring new life out of the things that appear hopeless?

It’s my prayer that this Advent we will choose the latter, that we will be people who intentionally choose to give God a chance.  You never know what God has in store for you this season.  It might be your best Christmas yet!

May God give us the courage to trust in God’s faithfulness to us, that in the midst of a year that has given us one stump after another, we would find hope in the shoot, Jesus the Messiah.  And as we recognize that our hope is in Christ, may we begin living in that hope here and today, embodying the new life of redemption and resurrection given to us by the God of all creation, who loves to say, “Watch me.  Watch what I can do with this.”

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This article was originally posted at https://fitzpastor.com/2020/11/30/2020-the-year-of-the-stump/. It was adapted from a sermon preached at First United Methodist Church Richardson on November 29, 2020 which can be viewed here: Traditional Service or Modern Service

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