A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
–Isaiah 11:1, 10
The redbud in my backyard has seen better days. A lightning strike split one of its main sections a few years ago. One huge dead branch hung over our new deck, and so my husband sawed it off before it could wreak havoc. And it was with a sinking feeling that I started assessing how much of it was lifeless last summer.
Yet when I look at it, I don’t see just a tree. I see myself and my eldest daughter squatting along a muddy hillside, planting a wee twig no thicker than her toddler pinkie. Her grandpa, my dad, had brought it all the way up from Tulsa in a bucket, so that we could plant a “good Oklahoma redbud” in our backyard as a reminder to me of home. No hothouse fancy variety, this tree, we plugged it into a hole along the back fence that had already seen two other trees die. What did we have to lose?
As my daughter grew, and her sister and brother joined the family, that tree grew, its roots holding down the clay on that hillside, steadfast and true. Yet a case could be made for cutting it down to the ground.
But then I looked closer. Even as those large limbs had been pruned and removed, new growth still sprouted from the trunk last year—pink blossoms forming a glorious corona, from the twigs, branches, and trunk– like the crown upon Jesus’s head depicted in artwork throughout the centuries. This redbud not only is still sending up new growth, it was spreading its seeds all over both our front and back yards.
Its hearty offspring now shaded our front porch, and every year for years now I have had to pull up dozens of sprouts and offer them to friends of mine. This tree preaches resurrection as quietly as resolutely as can be. Our redbud is a marvelous reminder of the wisdom of waiting, of watching, of being alert to the subtle signs of life that can suddenly come into focus before our eyes even in the dead of winter, the same beautiful message encapsulated by the season of Advent.
That redbud reminds me of the O Antiphon sung or recited this day in evening prayer, which hearkens to the name for the coming messiah from Isaiah 11, which we last heard two weeks ago in the lectionary: Veni, O Radix—Come, O Root of Jesse.
If you don’t hear this antiphon, you have heard it as one of the verses in the Advent hymn, “O Come O Come Emmanuel,” written by the Rev. John Mason Neale in the 19th century:
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave.
New growth from the line of Jesse, the line of David his son, sprouts up with the birth of Jesus. A stump that was seemingly dead and broken nonetheless bursts forth with new growth. If that’s not a metaphor for the church in our time, I can’t think of a better one. May we too be reminded in this season to persevere, to root and sprout regardless of impediment, proclaiming the coming of Jesus, who was, is and will be, for ever and ever.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a retired teacher and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.