Living in the New Forest we are surrounded by old tree stumps, the policy of foresters being to leave them to decay naturally. The great tree it once supported was chopped down perhaps generations ago, and whoever cut it down left the stump alone, expecting that it would just die and rot. But that doesn’t always happen. Just walk across Shirley Holms Road into the wood opposite and you will find abundant signs of life on many of the old stumps. Tiny green shoots appear each spring, barely noticed, but they’re there, a quiet miracle if ever there was one. Though its strong branches may one day provide shade and shelter, today it’s just a tender shoot. Cartloads of fruit may come from it later, but for now, it’s just a twig.
This is the picture the Prophet Isaiah paints as he describes a future king of Israel, who will bring righteousness and justice back to God’s people. For Isaiah, that king was probably Hezekiah, the infant son of King Ahab. This child would become a “greater David” springing from the same root, establishing peace and justice.
By invoking the image of a once majestic tree beginning to regain, and eventually surpass, its former glory, Isaiah tells the people that God has not abandoned them. The stump of their nation has not been left to rot. An age of renewal and redemption is coming, even though it begins as inconspicuously as a twig sprouting deep in a forest.
This is how God wants us to look at the birth of his Son. He wants us to see that this little child, who appears so weak and helpless, is the One destined to change the world. It must have been hard for most people to see the child Jesus in this way, but some did. Mary and Joseph, as well as Simeon and Anna and maybe a handful of others, saw it. And what these few people saw changed their lives. Simeon was filled with peace because his eyes had finally seen God’s salvation. Anna was so excited that she couldn’t stop talking about him. What will we see as we gaze at the baby in the manger at Christmas?