In these hallowed weeks of preparing for Christmas, I have been meditating on the words of the great prophet, Isaiah. In chapters ten and eleven his poetry conveys the breakthrough of God’s kingdom in symbols of forest and trees. The Assyrians had set themselves up as grand oppressors, and Isaiah foretold their fate through the image of a felled woodland:
See, the Lord, the Lord Almighty,
will lop off the boughs with great power.
The lofty trees will be felled,
the tall ones will be brought low.
He will cut down the forest thickets with an ax;
Lebanon will fall before the Mighty One.
(Isaiah 10:33-34, NIV)
I remember clearly the sight of a clear-cut forest on a childhood drive in the country. My young heart was struck by the sad devastation, humiliation even, of a once-glorious forest leveled to the ground, its trees hauled away for lumber, leaving a scarred landscape of stumps. Truly this is how God dealt with the arrogance of the Assyrians, and today the image cuts to the heart of our own pride. We need God’s righteous judgment to fell our haughty ways whenever we oppose and compete with the sovereignty that is God’s alone. The Church too needs the prophetic word by which the Holy Spirit hews down high mindedness that sets itself against God’s ways.
God’s judgment and salvation are inseparable works, so that this disturbing scene of destruction is mysteriously also a scene of hope. Even as our God moves in great power, His exquisite mercy becomes visible, for the very next verse speaks of something (Someone) new:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
(Isaiah 11:1, NIV)
All honor, glory and praise be unto our beautiful Savior! Humble and undefended, He is planted as a tender shoot in the clear-cut desolation. We know this truth most intimately, for He has taken root in our own hearts. He has descended into the cracked stumps of our shattered pride and failed rebellion, and has rooted into us His own eternal life. It is His passion to place Himself in the center of the scenes of darkest sin and worst wreckage, to give Himself as the seed of new life in exchange for our most hopeless barrenness. This is the sober yet joyful promise of Advent. Isaiah goes on to the final tree on which the Messiah won this salvation of His people:
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples;
the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
(Isaiah 11:10, NIV)
What a privilege to live in that day! To be among those who have been reclaimed by Him, and to now serve Him in lifting up that banner, His wonderful cross!