By: Sarah Bagge
Readings: Isaiah 11:1-10, Matthew 3:1-12, Romans 15:14-13, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 (7)
As a gardener, I’m always drawn to natural and agricultural images in the Bible. Today’s
readings are full of them – the shoot coming up from the stump of Jesse in Isaiah and again in Romans,
John the Baptist in the wilderness, and righteousness blossoming in the psalm.
Here, as always, we see the kingdom of God coming from the places we least expect. By all
human reasoning a tree stump is dead. It’s no longer able to bear fruit because it has no way of turning
light into sugars. But just like in Isaiah’s image, some stumps do stay alive, and even regrow. How?
We tend to think of trees as individuals, competing for scarce light and water in a forest. Science
is showing us that the reality is actually far more complicated and connected. Richard Powers
describes this in his novel The Overstory:
Something marvelous is happening underground, something we’re just learning how to see.
Mats of mycorrhizal cabling link trees into gigantic, smart communities spread across hundreds
of acres. Together, they form vast trading networks of goods, services, and information…
There is no individual in a forest, no separable events. The bird and the branch it sits on are a
joint thing. A third or more of the food a big trees makes may go to feed other organisms. Even
different kinds of trees form partnerships.
Trees support each other, sharing resources like water and sugar through networks of fungi that
connect their roots and putting out chemical signals to alert each other of threats like disease. Stumps
can sometimes live for hundreds of years and even regrow with help from the trees around them.
In Isaiah, the regeneration of this stump creates the right climate for a reconciled world. It’s a
world where all the regular rules no longer apply. It’s a world that’s so far outside our adult capacity to
imagine that we see kids leading the way and befriending venomous snakes.
May our longing this Advent lead us to see God’s kingdom coming where we don’t
expect it, and with peace and justice that go beyond our capacity to imagine!