[Isaiah 11:1-5] There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. 2 And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3 And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, 4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
The Shoot from the Stump of Jesse
Ah, the good old days. The golden age of yesteryear. Back when everything was better.
For the people of Israel, at the time of the birth of Christ, not all their good old days were all that good. There were a lot of bad old days. A lot of bad old centuries.
We say “Israel” and “Judah”, and then there’s all those tribes – Benjamin, Dan, Ephraim, Judah again, and so on. An important Biblical fact to know about the nation of God’s Old Testament people is that they were a divided nation, a divided kingdom.
First you had Israel – named after the man Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel – a united kingdom consisting of those twelve tribes. The kingdom of Israel was united as one kingdom under King David – perhaps true yet brief “Good Old Days” – and remained united under David’s son, King Solomon.
But then Solomon passed, and Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, became king. Under Rehoboam, the kingdom was divided – he pushed the nation too hard and it split, not east and west, but north and south.
The northern kingdom consisted of most of the tribes and retained the name Israel. The southern kingdom consisted chiefly of the grandest tribe, Judah, and retained that name. The kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah, often at odds with each other, and each with its own line of kings – for much of the Old Testament, this is the situation.
And it was a situation of great sin. Judah, in the south, possessed the city of Jerusalem and the Temple where God was worshipped. The kings of Israel, in the north, didn’t want their people going down to the Temple in Jerusalem, so they set up their own holy city and temple and worshipped a golden calf and other idols, alongside their worship of God.
In the south, in Judah, they were no better in their own ways. Ungodly alliances, forgetting the Law, false worship of other gods, leaving the Temple in disrepair, offering their children as sacrifices – God describes His people in both kingdoms as an unfaithful bride.
Prophets are sent to call both kingdoms, and kings of both kingdoms, to repentance for generations. There were short times of reform, but all-in-all both kingdoms are only further hardened in heart.
For their unbelief, sin, and impenitence – to perhaps finally bring them back in heart – God sends both kingdoms away geographically. Israel is taken captive by the Assyrian Empire. Judah is carried away by the Babylonian Empire.
Eventually the people of God do return to the region, but in shambles, and in a kingdom only united under the thumb and oppression of common foreign conquerors. By the Greeks, under Alexander the Great. And then eventually, after an even more tumultuous time, under the Roman Empire.
A lot of centuries of bad old days. Their own fault. But that doesn’t make it feel any better. Unfaithful, but, nevertheless, God is faithful. He finally, on Christmas morning, sent the King who would bring the true kingdom. Now, at the birth of their Savior, the true Good Days begin. Instead of good old days, the birth of this Child is the beginning of Good New Days, Days to Come.
Some of you pine for the good old days. But all of man’s days are wrecked by sin and end in death. The good old days – the happy days – of the 1950’s were only a decade after the very bad days of holocaust and world war. And even the best life in this flesh comes with sickness, loss, and the grave.
Jesus is born that man no more may die. He is the Savior from man’s sins. He is the redemption of those who suffer innocently, redeeming them by His own innocent suffering. He is the forgiver of the guilty by His death and shed blood for your sins. His resurrection answers the grave with life.
All that makes man’s days bad old days is conquered, vanquished, brought to end beginning with the birth of the Son of God made flesh. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” [Galatians 4:4-5]
When the old man, Simeon, held the Christ-child in his arms, he knew his salvation had come. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” [Luke 2:29-32]
The kingdom of David, Jesse’s son, had been cut down. But a shoot from that stump – a branch from the line of David – through young Mary – was born, born a new king. This little Shoot, this little Branch born, from Jesse, David, and all those descendants, is the birth of all the days they pined for and believed by faith would come.
For Judah, for Israel, for the gentiles – all the nations – the Branch from the roots, the Shoot from the stump, is born. A new kingdom, a new great tree full of branches – one not of this world – grows united. Perhaps not united in this world, but united in God’s heaven and in the eternal days for which this King and Kingdom were born.
Brothers and sisters, perhaps most of all at Christmas, you pine for the good days. Pine for good days – pray for good days – but not for good old days. The good days are to come. They are born and accomplished in Jesus. They begin in you even now, not by man’s strength, but by your Baptism. The Good New Days are yours and are to come. Pine and pray for them, and give thanks to God. Amen.