Friday, December 03, 2010

A, Advent 2 - Isaiah 11:1-5, Matthew 3:4-12 "The Black Stump"

There’s an old black stump. Where it is, nobody’s sure! Are you this side of the black stump, or is there a place where we pass it by and go way out past the black stump? There’s an old black stump that’s hard to find, so how does one know when they’re on the right side of the black stump?

This stump blackened from fiery assault, stands as a marker, remembered in the hearts of those whose travels are tiring and sometimes treacherous. The stump appears to be lifeless, yet from within its darkened timbers a shoot has emerged, promising life, a gift of shade to weary travellers, towering up as it did once before, higher and more majestic than even the cedars of Lebanon.

Against its blackened surrounds this green shoot is life, sooty darkness and choking dust cannot darken its freshness and all who pass by live in hope of one day dwelling in its promising shade.

However, there are other trees nearby. They too are sooty and dark, standing proud in the wake of the stump’s fiery trials. They have suckered from the stump; parasites seeking to suck the life out of their host, but appearing as if they have their own roots in a river of life.

They produce fruit, it looks pleasing to the eye, but below the skin it’s rancid and rotten to the core.

Nevertheless, the old black stump sustains the green shoot. It grows out of the stump into a beautiful tree. All who pass by seek rest and shelter under its branches. And the parasite trees don’t like it one bit. No amount of acidic rotten pesticide spat from the parasite trees can kill the shoot which has grown up out of the root.

Someone enquired as to why the black stump, became a stump in the first place. Such a large stump would have been a big majestic tree in ages past! But the reply came; it was cut down because it became rotten. It no longer sought the sap from its root source, and began to die.

Those travelling by cut it down because it was feared it would fall to its death and kill others around it. So it got the axe and what was useful was carted away and the rotten section was burned in the fire.

A reminder of its former glory stands as a blackened stump, but the reality of its diseased former limbs now lives in its blackened state and in the parasite trees scattered nearby.

Although the stump’s former foliage was fraught with failure, the green shoot shows no sign of sickness. It’s strong and healthy, there’s no wilt in its leaves, and its greenness is greater than a verdant vibrant spring.

It’s seems such a shame this beautiful new shoot which has grown into a magnificent tree is to be cut down yet again. Why this had to be done is sad, but it’s completely necessary that one tree falls in the forest for the sake of the rest.

For the sapling on the back stump had to suck up the sap that caused the former tree to start dying! The black stump is saving the parasites; it has become the succour for the suckers, it is helping those who hope to hurt it.

The tree was cut down, but its timber still gives life. Now others outside the forest are grafted into the black stump, growing into trees that give glory to the old black stump, drawing others into its shade offering a place where they too might be grafted in. These are the precious fruit the stump now produces in those who have been grafted in.

This black stump is also known as the tree of righteousness, the tree of faithfulness. This family tree is written down forever, bearing the fruit of peace, joy, and love. And even now those being grafted in live in faith and look forward in hope when peace, joy, and love will be the norm. This black stump is the tree of life.

There’s an old black stump! One mightn’t be able to say where one can go to physically look at it, but all know when they’ve been brought to the black stump, in which they receive righteousness, faithfulness, and life.

Do you trust in the life of righteousness and faithfulness you're receiving from the shoot which has shot up from black stump? Do you allow yourself to be daily grafted into the stump that gives life, producing the fruits in keeping with repentance? Or are you a sucker seeking to save yourself?

Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matthew 3:4–10 ESV)

Just as Jesus came to the Jordan, he is coming again. Still today the axe is at the root of the trees. Are you allowing the root of evil to be chopped out of you, so it can be immersed in the fire of the cross? Or will you be one who is completely cut down and thrown into the fire on the last day?

John the Baptist tells those who only seek to be parasites, “I baptise you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:11–12 ESV)

You see the chaff in us has been burnt with unquenchable fire, when we allow ourselves to remain grafted into the black stump of righteousness, and faithfulness. This black stump is the place of endurance and encouragement, and the life giving sap is the Word of God. And in the Word we receive the Word made flesh – Jesus Christ.

When Jesus was baptised by John, he was the green shoot growing out of the stump of righteousness and faithfulness, but this green shoot of life grew knowing he was to be cut down, lifted up, and nailed to a tree, to the cross.

Jesus Christ is our shoot from the black stump of whom Isaiah prophesied, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide disputes by what his ears hear, but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and 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 of his waist, and faithfulness the belt of his loins.” (Isaiah 11:1–5 ESV)

Therefore, full of the Holy Spirit, he faithfully underwent a baptism of fire and death, descending into hell with our load of parasitic sins, and they were burnt in the fire. But only when we allow the Holy Spirit to keep us buried in Christ, through baptism. We are now grafted into the Black Stump of Righteousness and Faithfulness, so the Spirit can raise us up and grow in us the fruits of repentance. We now live, not with the fire of wrath hanging over our heads, but with the fire of Pentecostal faith and hope.

This faith and hope allows Christ who has been raised in power over death to daily clean out the chaff that clutters our lives so we might one day be gathered around the eternal tree of life.

On this matter Paul says in Romans 11 …if the root is holy, so are the branches. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:16b–22 ESV)

So let us stand as one, enduring and encouraging one another with the Word of Life through whom we are grafted into the one Black Stump. He is pruning off the old sinful nature, saving us from the eternal fire, and growing us into eternal life. Amen.