In Isaiah 11 where we are this Sunday, Isaiah has this vision where he sees a field of huge trees that have been felled to the ground. He also sees a small shoot growing out of a stump. It is a picture of God's judgment and yet the hope God always provides his people. The field of felled trees is a picture of his judgment on Assyria and the nations (some of which Judah were hoping would save them). They were wondering if there was any hope for them. God gives them a promise in the picture of the little shoot that is growing out of one of the stumps.
What is he telling them and us? He is saying there is hope in the one who is both the root and the shoot of Jesse. In brief, God promised Israel and all of us that he was going to save the world through a child (see Genesis 3:15) and then later that this child would come through Jesse who had a son named David. God said that eventually a king would come through David's line who would save the whole world. So Jesus made Jesse, making him the root of Jesse, and Jesus descended from Jesse through David making him the shoot of Jesse.
That boy-king came into the world through Mary and Joseph when the angel said to Joseph not to be afraid to take his woman and marry her because the child born in her was conceived by the Holy Spirit and that the birth was the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy that "a virgin would conceive and his name was to be called Emmanuel which meant God with us."
So you say what does it mean for our lives? All of us come to church partly with the desire to find a story that is bigger than ourselves that will make sense of our lives. Isaiah and the Bible says there is a story. It is the story of creation, fall, redemption and restoration through a little shoot that grows and looks in the eyes of the world to be very insignificant.
In chapter 53, Isaiah says Jesus was like "a young plant, a root out of dry ground. He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him." Yet from that unprepossessing shoot (or plant, Isaiah mixes his metaphors) will come the salvation of the entire world, our universe and us if we will only root our lives in him. He is the root and shoot of our lives, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and end. Do you see, this is the story, the narrative that can make sense of our lives and world. Does it sound too good to be true?
Here is how it worked in the life of C.S. Lewis. He had a conversation late at night with his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis was still an agnostic and Tolkien was a devout Catholic. They were talking late into the night when they decided to take a walk on Addison's Way behind Magdalene College in Oxford. I went there years ago to re-live it in my mind.
Lewis and Tolkien were joined by another colleague, a Christian named Hugo Dyson. They discussed the resurrection and Tolkien made the point to Lewis that he had no problem acknowledging the power of these resurrection narratives as myth – indeed, much of his scholarly work depended on that acknowledgment.
Tolkien replied that the Christian resurrection was a “true myth.” By this he did not mean that Christianity is a myth, but that it is real history that fulfills the longings that we have in the fairy tales (or myths, or our superheroes) we experience as children or adults.
He meant that the resurrection is cosmic in its scope, that it explains the basic questions of life, and it does so using a fantastical twist in the story – a human being coming back to life. Now, Tolkien said to Lewis that you must see that this myth has the added weight of having actually happened. Within days of this conversation Lewis became a Christian, an experience he likened to "slipping into a pair of new shoes that somehow feel as if they’ve been comfortably worn for years.”
The question to take away is do you have a large enough story that answers the big questions about life, death, suffering, guilt, forgiveness and God? Lewis found that when he allowed his life to slip into this story and to be shaped by it, it was like slipping into a pair of new shoes that felt as if they've been worn for years. It's the old, old story that is always true and new!