by Jeff Stratton

Ours is not a culture of hope. If you have any doubts about that, ask the convict who just received a sentence for life in prison. Ask the single mother who is working several part-time jobs to try to feed herself and her children. Ask the university student who failed his semester exam, or the factory worker who just learned that his job has been terminated. Ask the baby who is about to be aborted because her mother doesn’t want her. Ask the child whose parents are separating, or ask the man who was just informed that he has cancer and has three months to live. No, hope is not a common commodity today. But has it ever been?
In the prophet Isaiah’s day, the great kingdom of Israel ruled by David and his royal line was on the decline. Very soon, the Assyrians would destroy Samaria and the Northern Kingdom. Not long after that, Judah would be conquered by the Babylonians. But in the face of this impending woe, God inspired Isaiah to write, “…there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots.” (Isaiah 11:1).

Think about symbols of life…optimism…hope. A stump doesn’t exactly come to mind. But that is exactly what Isaiah spoke about—a dead stump. In fact, several Bible translations even call it the “stump of Jesse”. The great tree of David’s royal line, a symbol of power and life, had been chopped down. From a human perspective, all hope was gone. But Isaiah did not speak from a human perspective. He spoke from God’s perspective. I doubt that Isaiah realized the fullness of the story—that the little twig which grew out of the stump of Jesse would one day bring food to the hungry, healing to the sick, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and life to the dead. I doubt he understood that the tender shoot would one day branch into a rugged cross, bringing salvation and freedom to a sinful, dying, hopeless world. You see, God does not view stumps the same way we do.

The little twig which grew out of the stump of Jesse would one day bring food to the hungry, healing to the sick, sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and life to the dead.

When we lose someone we love, we feel as if a part of our heart has been ripped out. When our hopes and dreams have been shattered, it seems as if our lives are coming to an end. Our tree of hope has been brutally chopped down. The future appears bleak. And if we are not careful, we find our lives defined by that death… that tragedy… that person who caused our misfortune.

Charles Dickens told of such a woman in his story Great Expectations. Miss Havisham’s life had stopped at twenty minutes to nine on her wedding day, when she received word that her groom had jilted her. Years later, the molding wedding cake still sat on the table, the decorations covered with cobwebs. She never removed her wedding dress till the day she died. Her entire life was defined by that moment—even all the clocks in the mansion pointed to the moment of her tragedy.

Sometimes we find ourselves doing the same thing. The problem is that we tend to focus on the pain and defeat of the stumps in our lives, instead of choosing to focus on what God can bring from the stumps. The part that matters is not the chopped-off, dead part…what matters is the new shoot growing from that old, dry stump. God wants to give new life and a new future!

If this Christmas season finds you struggling with despair, there is hope.

When we are in the middle of a trial, we find ourselves asking why and begging for deliverance. But when God does not explain the pain we are going through, maybe we need to realize that He is suffering along with us, wrapping His arms around us, holding us up, and giving us hope.

Christmas is a season of hope, and we Christians are the people of hope. We have hope because we have been given hope. We have been given new life. We have been redeemed. We have been given a second chance. And we have hope because we know that the story is not over yet—Christ will return again!

So if this Christmas season finds you struggling with despair, remember that because of God, there is hope. It is not over until God says that it’s over. Because of a shoot that grew from a hopeless old stump, there is hope.

Only God can bring healing when your heart has been torn in two. Only God can rebuild shattered dreams. And only God can bring new life—and salvation—out of a dead stump.

About the Author

Jeff Stratton is Senior Pastor of the New Columbia (Hamilton Heights) church and a valued member of the World Missions board. He formerly served as Associate Pastor of the Beavertown church.