Pastor Doug shares about Advent being the season of hope and a time to remember that if we’ve got Jesus in our heart and life, we’ve got hope no matter what else happens in life or in death.

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Click this link to get a printable version: The Resilience of a Shoot


Two weeks ago, I spoke about giving thanks even when we don’t feel like it.  Today we’re going to look at a passage from Isaiah 11:1-10 that speaks of hope when life seems hopeless.

Isaiah 11 speaks of a time when a descendent of Jesse, who was the father of King David, will emerge; one who is filled with the Spirit of the Lord, who will judge and rule with righteousness and faithfulness, so the wicked no longer cause terror, heartache or grief, and there shall be peace on earth.  Isaiah uses the image of a stump to make his point.

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his rootsThe 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.  His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.  He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.  Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.  The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.  The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.  They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.  On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.”

Hope is quite a word.

Everyone from poets to politicians to preachers recognizes there’s power in the word, “Hope.”

Hope and its siblings “hoped, hopeful, hopes, and hoping” appear 148 times in the Bible.  “Hopeless,” appears once (Jeremiah 2:25, if you’re interested).  I did a study of the word “hope” in the Bible and the Psalms have more references to hope (26) than any other book in the Bible.  The Psalms are the prayers and songs of the people and they encourage us repeatedly to “Hope in God.”

For example, Psalm 9:18 (NRSV), “For the needy shall not always be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor perish forever.”

  • Psalm 31:24 (NIV), “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.”
  • Psalm 33:18 (NRSV) “Truly the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.”
  • Psalm 39:7b (NRSV), “My hope is in you.”
  • Psalm 43:5 (NRSV) “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.”
  • Psalm 71:5 (NRSV), “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.”
  • Psalm 119:74 (NRSV), “Those who fear you shall see me and rejoice, because I have hoped in your word.”
  • Psalm 130:7 (NRSV), “O Israel, hope in the LORD!  For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.”

The book with the second most references to hope might surprise you; it’s the book of Job.  Job suffered the loss of his children, most of his property, and his health.  Job struggles mightily with maintaining a sense of hope in the face of such overwhelming suffering and adversity.  Eventually Job emerges from the storm of his terrible trial with a deeper personal relationship with God.

The book of the Bible with the third most references to hope is Paul’s letter to the Romans.

Writing about Abraham, Paul says that “Hoping against hope, he believed” that what God had promised him would come to fruition.

Sometimes we have to hold onto hope in spite of the evidence we see that is leading us to give up or to become despondent.

Romans 8:24-25 (NRSV) states, “For in hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”  There seems to be a relationship between hoping and waiting.  In Spanish the verb “esperar” means both to hope and to wait.

We hope for something because we don’t yet fully possess it.

There’s also a relationship between hope and dealing with suffering as Job demonstrates.  In Romans 12:12, we’re told to “rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering.”

Hope is a word that appears frequently on the pages of the Bible.  We’re encouraged by the steadfastness of women and men facing hard times who held onto hope and God’s promises.

The passage from Isaiah 11:1-10 that Paul refers to in Romans 15 is about a stump and yet it’s a passage of hope.

When we see a stump, most people don’t look at that and feel hopeful about a tree.  It means there was a tree and now it’s gone.

If we knew the tree before it was cut down, we might be even less hopeful and more depressed.

Isaiah was speaking to Judah and Jerusalem while the people of the northern kingdom of Israel were invaded and conquered by the Assyrians.

How do you hold onto hope in a circumstance like that when the tree of your nation has been cut down and seemingly destroyed?  You keep looking to the Lord.

Isaiah says out of the stump of Jesse shall come a new shoot, a new leader, and “the spirit of the Lord will rest on him.”  Someone powerful and good is coming who will make things right.

Like Isaiah, when we feel life is chopping us down, we can hold on to hope by looking to the Lord, by remembering those who endured tough times before us, and by taking a long-range view. 

It takes time for a shoot to grow into a new tree, but “All it takes is one bloom of hope to make a spiritual garden.”  – Terri Guillemets

At first, the passage from Matthew 3:1-12 about John the Baptist may not seem like a hopeful text because it talks so vividly about the need to confess sin, change behavior, repent, and bear fruit.  “Look out,” John says, one who is more powerful than we can imagine is coming.

The hopeful part of John’s message is that we can turn around; we can change our ways before it’s too late.  We can receive the Holy Spirit and have a spiritual birth.

The invitation to turn around and be baptized is a message of hope that God has not given up on us.

When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try one more time.”

As I’ve shared, there are many scriptures that encourage us to have hope, to be resilient in the face of adversity.  The Latin root of the word “resilience” (resiliens) means “to rebound, recoil, or jump back.”

As a character trait, resilience is our mental ability to recover quickly from misfortune, illness or adversity.  Resilience has to do with flexibility, regardless of circumstances or challenges.

If we’re worrying about the future, Proverbs 23:18 reminds us, “There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.” 

Yesterday was the 78th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii that brought the United States into World War II.

Author, Laura Hillenbrand spent seven years on her book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.  On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Force bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil and gasoline.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So, began one of the most extraordinary stories of the Second World War.

The lieutenant’s name was Louis Zamperini.  In boyhood, he’d been a delinquent, breaking into houses, brawling, and fleeing his home to ride the rails.  As a teenager, he channeled his defiance into running, discovering a prodigious talent that carried him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin as the youngest member of the US Olympic Team and within sight of the four-minute mile.  But when war came, the athlete became an airman, embarking on a journey that led to his doomed flight, and a tiny raft, adrift in the Pacific.

Ahead of Zamperini and two comrades lay thousands of miles of open ocean, leaping sharks, a foundering raft, thirst and starvation, enemy aircraft, and, beyond that an even greater trial.  Zamperini would spend an amazing 47 days at sea before being captured by the Japanese.  From then until the war’s end in 1945, he was engaged in a brutal struggle to survive.  He was imprisoned at infamous prisoner-of-war camps on Kwajalein Atoll (nicknamed “Execution Island”) and the secret interrogation center Ofuna.  Murderously sadistic guards, starvation rations and bloody dysentery all whittled away at his body and soul.  Finally, he wound up at Naoetsu POW camp northwest of Tokyo, where a psychotic prison guard known as “The Bird” made it his mission to break Zamperini.  Driven to the limits of endurance, Zamperini would answer desperation with ingenuity; suffering with hope, resolve, and humor; brutality with rebellion.  Unbroken is a testament to both the utter depravity of humanity and to the resilience of the human mind, body and spirit.

Louis Zamperini is a great example of what actor Christopher Reeve said after the horseback riding accident that left him paralyzed: “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”  Back home after the war, Zamperini suffered terrible flashbacks… but his wife introduced him to the Rev.  Billy Graham at a Bible tent meeting.  His government-issue Bible had “made no sense to him,’’ but “born again’’ his post-traumatic stress symptoms disappeared.  He earned a living as a Christian speaker and ran a nonprofit boys camp.  Amazingly he visited a Japanese prison to forgive his jailed captors and even ran with the Olympic torch in Japan in 1998 near one of the camps where he was a prisoner.  He lived to be 97 years old and died on July 2, 2014.  Louis Zamperini embodied resilience, a quality of soul and a virtue that can help us mend our world and ourselves.  Resilience and hope are precious resources.  Samuel Johnson wrote, “Hope is necessary in every condition.  The miseries of poverty, sickness, of captivity, would, without this comfort, be insupportable.”

Romans 5:2, 4-5 proclaims,

“We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.  And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Whatever our situation or circumstance or trial or test, we can face it better with hope and resilience. 

Hope is not something that’s given to us, it’s an attitude and a stance toward life that we need to courageously choose and cultivate again and again and again.

“Hope is some extraordinary spiritual grace that God gives us to control our fears, not to oust them.” – Vincent McNabb.

Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. – Anne Lamott

“You’ve gotta have hope.  Mustn’t sit around and mope.”  from “You Gotta Have Heart”

“Hope is the feeling we have that the feeling we have is not permanent.” – Mignon McLaughlin, The Neurotic’s Notebook, 1960

Hope is putting faith to work when doubting would be easier.

“Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.” – George Iles

“We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.”  – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you find yourself struggling to feel hopeful especially because of losing a loved one this year, we’re going to have a time of sharing and support called a “Blue Christmas” on Wednesday, December 18 at 11am.

Advent is a season of hope.

It is a time to remember that God can bring new growth and hope from a stump that seemed utterly cut off, new beginnings where none seemed possible, transformation from seemingly unbreakable habits, deliverance from captivity, righteousness restored in the face of injustice, truth in the face of lies, honesty in the face of corruption.

It’s a time to remember if we’ve got Jesus in our heart and life, we’ve got hope no matter what else happens in life or in death.

Isaiah can look at a stump and see the possibility of hope and new life.

Christians look at a cross, an implement of death, and see the possibility of hope and new life.

If a shoot can emerge from a stump, if resurrection can follow crucifixion, maybe peace can be realized in a world forever bloodied by war; maybe hope can be found in the midst of despair; maybe we can find resilience rooted in our faith in God who has given us so much.

Prayer

To you Lord, we lift our heads, hearts and hands in prayer.

We put our trust in you, believing that your word is true.

We lift to you our longing for hope in a despairing world.

We lift to you our need for hope in a time of deep hopelessness in our world.

We lift to you our deep desire for hope in a bleak and sometimes depressing world.

You promised hope to Israelites and you kept your promise.

You promised hope in the coming of your son and he was hope for the world.

You promised hope to the early church and that hope was not denied.

You promise hope to us and we pray for your continued faithfulness.

Lord, we pray for strength when our faith falters.

We pray for you to pour out your love, so it fills our lives and splashes over on everyone around us.  Fill us with confidence in your presence in our lives.  Keep our minds focused on you, our hearts filled with you and our hands outstretched to you.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  1. Would you say you’re feeling more hopeful or more discouraged these days? Why do you think you feel that way?
  2. In Isaiah 11:2-5, the prophet describes the qualities of the “shoot” that emerges from the stump of Jesse. What stories, teachings, or sayings of Jesus come to mind as you consider the qualities described in Isaiah 11:2-5?
  3. Which aspect of Jesus’ life, character or teaching (as given in Isaiah 11:2-5, wisdom, might, righteousness, faithfulness, etc.) has made the greatest impact in your life?
  4. How would you describe the relationship between suffering, waiting and hope?
  5. How can what we learn from the scriptures help us to have hope when our circumstances may be discouraging or even appear hopeless? How can you be an instrument of God’s hope to someone else this week?