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What does the stump of Jesse have to offer to a hurting, divided world?

On the second Sunday of Advent, the text was Isaiah 11:1-10.

“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The 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” (Isaiah 11:1-2).

The passage ends with the improbable image of the peaceable kingdom as the leopard and kid, the calf and lion all make nice and follow the lead of a little child.

As my pastor read the text, I realized that as much as I love the image of the shoot, I am probably more at home with that of the stump. I am, I think, generally upbeat and joyful, but that is in spite of the stumps—I see them all around me, and few if any are showing signs of shoots. And by “stump” I really mean the destructive forces that fell the trees in the first place—violence, disease and death, droughts and storms of climate change, acts of hatred, greed, narcissism, anger, and short-sightedness that are threatening or dismantling relationships, communities, country, and church.

All of creation is groaning, and I don’t know what to think or do about that. I am, quite simply, stumped.

But as I sat in church and listened to the sermon on the Isaiah text, I began to think about the shoot and what that might mean.

For the past two Covid-laden years my husband and I faithfully “attended” church online—we signed in and said hello in the chat room, and then I would happily settle in with my coffee, the Sunday crossword puzzle, and listen (somewhat) to the service. The break from attending was a time of transition and healing for me after I had retired from a career in denominational ministry during a difficult time.

During those two years, I hadn’t participated in the virtual choir or occasional in-person vocal ensembles. I wasn’t receiving any updates on rehearsals or events because I had used my work email for choir and I hadn’t updated it after I retired. I had decided it was time to be done with singing.

And I wasn’t sure if I would return to church on a regular basis.

Then this fall I got a text from an old friend who asked if she could add my name to the choir email chain. She asked me to return.

A simple question and a simple invitation. I surprised myself by agreeing.

I am now back in the choir, and I’m a bit surprised by how happy I am to be back. Each Sunday I look out on people I’ve known for a long time and those whom I have yet to meet. People I agree with and people I don’t. People who think like I do and people who don’t. People who vote like I do and people who root for the other side. From my seat in the choir loft, I am looking out on my beloved church family. It’s not the peaceable kingdom, but today I started to see them as a shoot from the stump.

About the Author

  • Jane Swanson-Nystrom

    Jane Swanson-Nystrom, a longtime editor with Covenant Communications, lives in Chicago, Illinois, where she attends North Park Covenant Church.

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