Isaiah 11: 1 – 10   Listening for God’s Footsteps December 5, 2021  



Listening for God’s Footsteps

Isaiah 11: 1 – 10


(preached December 5, 2021)


A few weeks ago, I dug up a piece of the lawn in my back yard to create a bed for perennials.  The grass – and weeds – had been growing there a long time.  It wasn’t easy, breaking up the turf and working the soil beneath, but I found it satisfying.  When the soil was good and loose, I spread some compost on top.  Now, when I look out my kitchen window, I see a patch of earth, nicely mulched.  I imagine the flowers I’ll plant there in the spring.  In my mind’s eye, I see a garden with all kinds of plants: some bushy, some tall and spindly, with yellow flowers or purple flowers, filling my back yard with fragrance and color.


But for now, that place in my yard, that future garden, is just a patch of dirt.  A well watered, well fertilized patch of dirt, but still, on the surface, a patch of dirt.  I know that beneath the surface things are happening.  Worms are already doing their thing, processing the earth, making it more nourishing.  Something is happening, something hidden, beneath the surface.  Underground, something is stirring, even now.


I’ve been thinking about that patch of dirt this week as we move more deeply into Advent.  The season of Advent is a time to prepare, to open our hearts to the coming of Christ.  Advent is a time of watching, a time of anticipating new life.  Advent is the dark winter season when hope is waiting to be born.  On the surface, Advent may not look like much, like a patch of dirt in the back yard.  But under the surface new life is already stirring.  Under the surface, hope is unfolding.


In our passage for today from the Hebrew Scriptures, the prophet Isaiah is writing to his people.  They have been conquered by a foreign army.  They are very discouraged.


But Isaiah writes in hope, “A shoot will grow up from the stump of Jesse…” Jesse was the father of David, who became King David, ruler of the people.  Jesse’s family was the royal line.  That line had been cut off when the people were conquered.  Jesse’s line was cut off, reduced to a dried-up stump.  But now, says Isaiah, new life will spring from that stump.  Isaiah has a word of hope for his community.  Baptist pastor Amy Mears writes, “Isaiah comforts …his… community with words of fruitfulness, hope, encouragement.  [He says] ‘The stump appears to be dead, I know.  Our family tree is cut down.  It looks like we’re finished as a people, finished as a nation.’


“But wait.  Something is afoot.  Deep in the dark recesses of the earth, life stirs even yet.  Isaiah tells the people, “This is not over.  Life is here.  This stump of our family is not done.  Our roots are sound and grounded.’  A shoot, a sprout, a branch, a canopy is in our future’” (Mears, Upper Room Disciplines, 2016, p. 396).


Life is present, even in a stump that looks dead.  A shoot will spring from that dead-looking, dried-up stump.  Isaiah says, something good is on the way.   New life will emerge from that barren place.


But that new life has not yet appeared.  We have to wait.  The Dutch priest Henri Nouwen writes about waiting.  He says that in our world today, “waiting is not a very popular attitude.  Waiting is not something that people think about with a lot of enthusiasm.  In fact, most people consider waiting a waste of time.  Maybe this is because we live in a world which basically says, ‘Get going!  Do something!  Don’t just sit there and wait!”  [Nouwen says that] for many people, waiting is an awful deserted place between where they are and where they want to go.  Most people don’t like to be in that place.  They want to get out of that place by doing something” (Nouwen, The Spirituality of Waiting).


Especially these days, I think, waiting is difficult for us because so many of us are fearful.  Many of us live in fear.  People are afraid: afraid of what the future might hold, afraid of other people, afraid of their own feelings. Fearful people have a hard time waiting, because when we’re afraid we want to get away from where we are.  The more afraid we are, the harder it is to wait.


Isaiah’s people were also waiting.  His community was waiting for a ruler who would come, in righteousness, and usher in God’s reign of justice.  Isaiah offers them a word of hope.  Isaiah says the shoot that will spring from Jesse’s stump will be alive with the Spirit of God.  Eugene Peterson renders Isaiah’s words this way in The Message:

“The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over [this righteous ruler], the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding…He’ll judge the needy by what is right, render decisions on earth’s poor with justice…Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots, and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.”


When you look at that old stump, it may not look like much.  But new life is emerging, deep within.  Right now it’s hidden, but that new life will make itself known to us.  So, Isaiah says, wait.  Wait in hope.  Wait as people who know God’s righteous reign is coming.  Wait as people who have already heard God’s footsteps.


Advent invites us, as Isaiah urged his people, to wait in hope.  When we wait in hope, we trust that something will happen – not according to our wishes, but according to the promises of God.  Hope is always open ended.  To wait in hope, open endedly, is a very radical attitude toward life.  Waiting in hope is giving up control of our future and letting God be in charge.  Waiting in hope is trusting that God will shape us according to God’s love and not according to our fear.  Waiting in hope is trusting that something will happen to us, something more wonderful than we can possibly imagine.  New things will happen to us and in us, new things that are far beyond our capacity to predict.


So as we move through the season of Advent, a season of waiting, may God help us wait in hope.  May we wait in hope, trusting that something will happen – not according to our wishes, but according to the promises of God. May we wait with the attitude of people who have already heard God’s footsteps.  May we listen for whispers of wonders to come.







Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

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