The Family Tree
Topic: Biblical Verse: Isaiah 11:1–11:10, Matthew 3:1–3:12, Romans 15:4–15:13
Second Sunday of Advent
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Isaiah 11:1-10 (Matthew 3:1-12; Romans 15:4-13)
“Family Life: The Family Tree”
The better part of twenty years ago, my brother and I joined our mom and dad for a tour of our family’s ancestral home: Scotland. We drove a loop around the country, taking time to visit the current and former castles of Clan Campbell. Time had transformed some of the keeps into massive ruins. But others of these great buildings, including magnificent Inveraray Castle, still serve as residences or museums. As we toured around, we started to get a better sense of our history. In one of the castles, my dad entered a room, only to turn around and be surprised by a wall-size artwork depicting a literal Campbell family tree – root, trunk, branches, and all. It made for a pretty impressive sight, looking up and seeing the generations grow and spread out from a common point of origin. We don’t have anything anywhere near as extraordinary as that wall-size family tree back at our home. My mom did start collecting genealogical information for our branch of the family, though, and – as some ancestry websites have advertised – knowing where you come from gives you a better sense of identity.
In these closing months of the calendar year, families tend to get together more often for big holidays and vacation time. Some households look ahead to that time of family togetherness with joy, knowing that they’ll be sharing their traditions and catching up with people they might not get to see very often. But even within those households, though, there’s a strong possibility that some people are dreading those times in which they’re forced into proximity with their family members. Families are made up of people, and people don’t always get along. People might disagree in their political and religious views – some even have politics as their religion. People might hold grudges for years, over both real and misperceived offenses. People might feel like they have nothing in common with the other members of their family, maybe even carrying shame for what’s happened in their family’s past.
What does your family tree look like? From your perspective, is it a mighty evergreen, or one more like the frail little sapling in the Charlie Brown Christmas special when he first find it at the tree market? Or is it not even that – a twig or less – leaving you feeling disconnected from family and uncertain of your place in the world? Are you looking forward to the closing of the year and time together with relatives as a blessing or feeling that it’s a burden?
Is something chopping at your family tree these days? What’s looking to cut you off and separate you from the people who should be loving and caring for you – and vice versa? Whatever it is, that’s the effect of sin, the brokenness and imperfection inside us and at work in the world around us. As we continue our focus on “Family Life” through this season of Advent, hear what God has to say about your family tree.
These weeks at the end of the calendar year include the start of the new church year with the season of Advent. If you were here at St. John’s last weekend, you heard that Advent is a time of preparation. We’re getting ready for Christmas – the sights and sounds of that season are already here in supermarkets and shopping malls – but Advent isn’t merely a lead-up to celebrating Jesus’ birth by getting together and singing carols and exchanging gifts. Advent is a season for looking ahead to the return of our Savior and remembering what it means to be a part of his family tree.
God gave the prophet Isaiah a message that called the people of his day to look ahead. At the time, things weren’t looking too good for their near-term future. Foreign powers were oppressing them. Their leaders turning to other nations for support and put their confidence in earthly allies. All their planning and effort would fail, however, and the kingdom that David once ruled would fall into the hands of the enemies of God’s chosen people. But God would not forget His people. God in His judgment would use the ax of foreign nations to fell the trees of faithless Israel and Judah, and yet He gives Isaiah His promise that He would then chop down those nations. The forest of arrogant human evil represented by those nations would be laid low, so low that they would never come back. But the family tree of God’s people would rise up again.
“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Here in Isaiah 11(:1), we heard God’s promise that His people could look ahead in hope. God would bring new growth from the stump. Have you ever wondered, though, why Isaiah’s message of hope refers to “the stump of Jesse,” not “the stump of David?” David was the first king who’d led Israel to prominence among the nations. He was the one through whom God had promised the Messiah to come. David’s father Jesse was a far less impressive part of the family tree, a regular peasant in the little town of Bethlehem. And that’s the point. God would again work through a peasant family in Bethlehem to make a royal house. The Messiah would rise up from the stump of Jesse to establish a family tree for all people. His name is Jesus.
Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise to overcome the brokenness and imperfection of the world that sin has caused. Each of our family trees is diseased, and nothing that you or I are able to do is going to change that. In fact, we have each contributed to and encouraged the disease of sin in all the ways that we’ve fallen short. God should just chop the tree down and throw it into the fire. But He doesn’t. Instead, He loving takes you and me and grafts us, connects us, onto a new tree: the shoot of Jesse. “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.” (Isaiah 11:2-3a). Jesus lived the life that was fully accountable to God, beyond our brokenness and imperfection. That’s why Jesus could take all our brokenness and imperfection and overcome it on the cross. And he took it all into death so that you and I would live.
Jesus could do all this because he’s not only the shoot of the stump of Jesse; he’s also the root of Jesse’s family tree. (Isaiah 11:10; Romans 15:12) The Word through whom everything was made took on flesh, born of a peasant in Bethlehem for Jesse, for you, for me, and for the world. He is the source of the family tree into which God would graft all people. Through Jesus, you are rooted into God’s grace. As John the Baptist said when speaking to the Pharisees (Matthew 3:9), God could make children of Abraham from even the stones of the ground. How much more so is He able to make people, regardless of their ancestry, new members of that family tree in Christ!
Rooted in God’s grace as branches of Christ, you now stretch out bearing His gifts for all people. God would make them – your family, your friend, your neighbor – branches of the family tree we share in Christ. So as you look ahead in this season of Advent to time spent with the people around you, think about your family tree. Remember your source. Advent looks ahead to Jesus’ coming into the world because he is the source of our family tree as God’s people in the world. To reinforce a point that Pastor Meehan made in his message last week, you can better know who you are by recalling whose you are. You are part of the Church, the body of Christ.
Grafted into Jesus, you can look ahead in confidence. He is hope, for he is the one who overcomes brokenness and imperfection: for you, for me, for our world. He is hope for family life, in Advent and always.