Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Old Rugged Jesse Tree

Sermon from December 5, 2010
(Advent 2 – Year A)
Isaiah 11: 1-10
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas

The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah cries out to be heard:
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
On that day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples.”

During December, there are several places and streets in Waco that seem to go all out with their Christmas light displays.
One of those houses that just covers their yard in Christmas paraphernalia and decorations is over by the old Hillcrest Hospital.
Another place that becomes a holiday pilgrimage when looking for great light displays is Wooded Crest Drive in Woodway.

Wooded Crest Drive is only one block away from my house.
When you are getting off of Highway 84, just before you turn right onto Poage, when you get to the bottom of the hill, turn right onto Wooded Crest, and you will see what I mean.

During December, our family always takes the detour, and goes down Wooded Crest Drive, to see what each house has put up in the way of Christmas light displays.
Last Tuesday night, we drove down Wooded Crest to see the progress they are making in their Christmas extravaganza.

As we drove down the street, one of the houses has put up a big Christmas train in their front yard, and each of the cars in the train has a giant picture in it of each of their different grandchildren’s faces.
One of the houses usually uses some sort of projection device so that the side of their house is bathed in the image of a giant Christmas tree.
And the granddaddy of all the houses on Wooded Crest has every inch of the front yard filled with inflatable Santas and reindeer and lights that blink in tempo with Christmas music that is broadcast from this house.
You can also listen to this music by tuning your car stereo into a particular FM radio station as you drive by.
As usual, Wooded Crest Drive is doing its best to be a must-see destination for holiday lights.

Yet last Tuesday night, as we were driving to the end of street, we noticed one of the most unusual Christmas light displays.
In fact, the display was so unusual that our son, John, exclaimed:
“Why did they put that up?”
You see this house was mainly dark, with absolutely no blinking lights on shrubbery, no plastic inflatable Mary and Joseph and the baby, no dancing lights to keep time with music piped into car stereos.
At this most unusual house, coming up from out of the ground, bathed in one single spotlight, is a tall, wooden, rugged cross.

The Old Testament Prophet Isaiah cries out to be heard above the din of the muzak carols:
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch, shall grow out of his roots.
On that day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples.”

You see, Jesse was the father of David.
And David was the greatest king in the history of Israel.
After King David, the kings of Israel seemed to go downhill.
Yet the Jewish people, including the Prophet Isaiah, yearned for a king of the Jews upon whom the spirit of the Lord would rest.
In the time the Old Testament, the Jewish people yearned for a righteous branch, a tree that would grow out of the root of Jesse, the father of David, the great King of the Jews.

In Christian art, the tree of Jesse is commonly depicted in paintings and in stained glass windows.
In Christian art, the tree of Jesse is actually renderings of the family tree of Jesus.
In artistic renderings of the Jesse Tree, Jesse is depicted laying down at the root, with a branch, a tree, growing out of his body.
From Jesse, the tree branches go up to his son, King David, then up to David’s son, all the way up to Joseph, who was the earthly father of Jesus.
For in Christian thought, Jesus is the pinnacle of the tree that branches out of the root of Jesse.
In Christian thought, Jesus is the branch of Jesse that stands as a signal to the peoples.

Yet I wonder if the Prophet Isaiah was not referring to an even different kind of tree when he proclaimed about a branch that shall grow out of the root of Jesse?
Because over 700 years after Isaiah delivers this prophesy, on a Friday afternoon outside of Jerusalem, a different tree springs forth from the ground.
On that spring day, at the Jewish festival of the Passover, a tall, wooden, rugged tree is lifted up on a hill called the Place of the Skull.
And on that tree, a sign is nailed at the very top, a signal to all people that simply reads:
This is the King of the Jews.

And on that tree, the descendent of the great King David is crowned with thorns.
On that tree, Jesse’s great, great, great, great, grandson is crucified for all people.
On that day, the tree of Jesse becomes the glorious tree that we call the Cross of Christ.

For the Prophet Isaiah, over 700 years before, foretells:
“On that day, the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples.”
And the tall, wooden, rugged cross still stands today as a signal to all people:
A signal that God loves you, no matter what.

Two weeks from today, Jimmy Abbott, our assistant rector, will be ordained to the sacred order of priests.
I certainly hope that all of you will be here on Sunday evening the 19th to witness Jimmy’s ordination.
And Jimmy’s upcoming ordination has made me remember my own ordination to the priesthood, which also occurred just a few days before Christmas.

I received several different gifts for my ordination to the priesthood.
Yet one gift, from another priest named Sara, was really quite unique:
Sara gave me an ordination gift that is a very unusual Christmas ornament.
This ornament is actually a nail, a big 5 inch nail, with a hook so that this nail can hang on our Christmas tree each year.
Along with this gift of a cold, gray nail, Sara wrote a note to me, a message saying that I should always hang this nail on our tree – and remember at Christmas, that the greatest gift of all is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Our family hangs this gray nail on our Christmas tree every year, to remember that the greatest gift is the branch of Jesse, the King who was nailed to a tree.

Christmas trees have become the universal and pervasive symbol of Christmas.
Yet it is the Cross, the tree springing from the root of Jesse, that is the signal to all people - that God loves everyone, no exceptions.

So as you put up your Christmas tree this year,
Place a cold gray nail onto your tree, as a remembrance that Christ died for you.
As you gaze into the twinkling lights of your tree with a cup of eggnog in your hand,
Do not forget that other tree, the tree of Jesse upon which the King of the Jews stretched out his arms upon the hard wood of the Cross.
Hear the words of that old Prophet Isaiah, crying out in the wilderness, proclaiming:
“On that day, the tree of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples.”

For God loves you so much, that the son of Jesse died for you,
On a tall, wooden, rugged tree.


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