Chelsea Van Der Poel explores how regardless the season, God's goodness creates a hopeful new day.
On the fourth day of Advent, 2021, Chloe*, a survivor of family violence, refuses to allow violence to be the end of the story and points to new life.
New life and regrowth
A shoot shall come out from the stock 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.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Isaiah 11:1-4 NRSV
I am blessed to live surrounded by beautiful, tall, strong, flourishing trees that tower over my first floor apartment. I look out through my windows and marvel at their strength and at the variety of bird, animal, and insect life that they shelter and nurture. But from where I sit, I can also see two or three stumps - the stunted remnants of once-healthy trees that have been deliberately cut down and removed. Trees that were unwanted - but that otherwise could have been as tall and strong as those that remain.
This chapter of Isaiah begins by imagining the people of God as the cut-down stump of a once-flourishing tree. The previous chapter has graphically described a swathe of destruction left by the oncoming Assyrian invaders - the devastation seems total, final. But then, this tiny shoot of hope appears - the stubborn pushing back of feeble but determined life against the forces of destruction.
As a survivor of violence, I know how it feels to be that cut-down stump. The knowledge that someone I once trusted planned to remove me from life - and succeeded in cutting me off from so much that was my life - is a profound devastation. Even years later, there are times when it takes all the stubbornness I can muster to fight for continued existence against those destructive messages that told me that I should not exist, that it would be better for everyone if I was removed.
I draw hope and courage from these verses, in which Isaiah describes for us the breath of God nurturing the tiny, fragile, yet stubbornly-alive shoot. In Isaiah’s vision, this fragile shoot becomes a gentle yet determined leader, who defies the attempts of destructive forces to eliminate him and the people he cares for. Filled with life, filled too with the energy for justice and integrity that the Spirit of God breathes into him, this leader in turn nurtures a community of peace and safety where all are safe from harm.
My own new life, as safe from past violence as I and others around me can make it, feels like that tiny, fragile shoot from the stump - re-growing anew, in a stubborn refusal to let the violence I suffered be the end of my story. As in Isaiah’s prophecy, this new life that has grown up out of loss is nurtured by the gentle breath of God, and flourishes in the community of integrity and peace that I have become a part of.
As we celebrate Advent together - the springing up of this tiny, fragile life that grew, flourished, and ultimately defied and overcame the most destructive forces of violence - may we as a community nurture in each other the hope of this prophecy, and the courage to live on and to seek together the renewal of life that is Jesus’ promise.
The author is a survivor of family violence and remains anonymous, using Chloe as a pseudonym.
God of hope,
In our fragility,
in our experiences of loss,
we look to you to be our source of renewal and strength.
Sustain our life,
with the gentle breath of your Spirit.
In the strength you give to us,
with the courage you grow in us,
make us a community of peace and of safety,
where all can find life and hope,
where all can flourish.
We ask with stubborn hope in the name of Jesus,
Photograph: Chris Jury, Sunset, Meru Country, Lake Bonney, South Australia (image selected by Monique Hughes)
Visual Description: Below the horizon, the sunset is reflected onto the surface of the lake. To the right is the silhouette of a tree, without leaves, also reflected onto the lake.