As the days grow shorter in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun shines less and we enter the season of Advent. Setting our sights on the birth of our Savior, Advent’s liturgical movements flex our spiritual and theological muscles. They call us to our prophetic (extremely difficult at times) practice as Christians: hope in the face of despair.
“A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse: a branch will sprout from his roots” (Isaiah 11:1, Common English Bible). In the family of Jesse, the future king, David, was the youngest son. Jesse was the stump. Then came David and, many years later, from this lineage came Jesus.
A sprout from a supposedly barren stump seems to be a favorite narrative tool of biblical writers (or miracle of God). It reminds us of Sarah and Abraham finally having Isaac, Elizabeth and Zechariah finally having John — and of Mary’s miracle baby, Jesus.
Jesus’ birth was uniquely miraculous. But, like these other stories, it also was an unexpected new life in a difficult situation.
We all have experienced “the stump” in our lives. It is death, grief, abuse, pain and fear. It is systemic oppression and institutional failures. It is despair after loss and rejection. It comes in many forms, and we all know it uniquely.
The birth of Jesus, and later his resurrection, remind us that sprouts await. They appear when we least expect them, even from dried-up stumps.
As we journey to Christmas and name our stumps, creating space for hope is an act of faithfulness. It isn’t easy. But following Jesus isn’t easy.
In this issue, we offer articles on contemplative spirituality by David Rensberger and Lynda Hollinger-Janzen. On page 8, Rensberger says that “to give ourselves to God, we have to be aware of ourselves, to know ourselves in God, to ‘clothe ourselves with the new self.’ ”
At first glance we might think this is an easy and lovely task. While it may be lovely at times, many a therapist, social worker, pastor or spiritual director will tell you that being fully aware of oneself is not an easy task.
As you read this and other articles, I invite you to consider how you understand yourself in God — and, on the journey of Advent, where new life might sprout for you.