Advent Book Club Day 1

11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.

Isaiah 11:1-3

Today’s thought from Henri M Nouwen was around his expectation that there would be loud and impressive events to convince everyone of God’s saving power and the surprise of a small baby instead.  Can this be the Messiah? The one who will save us?

Way back in the day, when I’d stopped being taken to church as a child and before I started going as a young man, I found in my room the Gideon’s New Testament I’d been given at school.  I started to read, in part prompted by one of those “100 Books every school leaver should have read” articles which included the Bible. Why reading that started to make me curious about faith is another tale for another time.  But what I missed out on, of course, was the Old Testament.

When I did, eventually, get around to reading the Old Testament, I found a real mixture. The Bible started with the stories we’d grown up with – Adam and Eve, Noah, Moses, Abraham and Isaac, Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat*.  What astonished me is the way that the Jewish people kept drifting away from YHWH due to, as they saw it, broken promises, but then coming back.   But what really got me was when I got to Isaiah.  I knew fragments of the book, of course – what school choir member wouldn’t have sung Handel’s Messiah?   However, it was the way in which the prophets foretold the coming of Jesus.   Was this all coincidence, I wondered?   Could the author(s) of both old and new have really been as sophisticated as all that – before the days of word processors and ready access to pen and paper to produce detailed concordances?  Or could there, just possibly, be something to this prophecy lark?  Could Jesus actually be the promised Messiah?

I promised music, so music you shall have.  An unusual choice, this time – this is Isaiah 11:1-9 in the original Hebrew.  Now imagine you are hearing this in exile, downtrodden – yet somehow there is hope of what is to come. There doesn’t seem to be any signs of a great king arriving to save Israel any time soon.  But maybe they were looking in the wrong place – for a king, with an army, not a babe in a manger.

Challenged by today’s task to find a small sign that God is present, I looked to my son. I looked at the childlike innocence, and realised that this is worth keeping – it is a sign that sometimes we need to forget the trials of everyday life, and look instead anew at the wonders of this world.

* Not strictly described as such in any translation of the Bible.