Here’s a devotional I wrote for our church’s Christmas Eve service, to correspond with the lighting of the Hope candle.

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”[a]

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 15:12-13

We moved into our current home in the spring of 2016, just as the trees on the property were beginning to bud. But as those first weeks of spring passed, we realized some of the trees were not budding or leafing out – instead, they were dropping limbs. A gnarly stand of dead locust trees along our driveway gave the impression of a haunted forest.

Grant borrowed a chainsaw and revved the engine with a glint in his eye. When he was finished, we had 15 stumps where the dead trees had once stood. 

A year passed, and the following spring, as the grass began to green up, we noticed a bunch of leafy little sprigs popping up around the yard. Lots of them, and growing fast. We soon realized they were locust saplings shooting up from the roots of the trees we had taken down.

Even though there was nothing left of those trees but a foot or so of brittle gray trunks, somewhere deep beneath the dirt, beyond what our eyes could see, life was still stirring.

“We are cut down, but not destroyed!” the locust trees must’ve said. “Just a flesh wound! We’ll rise again to our former glory! Your blade cannot sever our hope!”

Grant climbed onto his zero-radius lawn mower and mowed them down.

Another year passed. A year of waiting in the darkness and the rot. Hanging on through so many freezing nights. But spring came, and the sap started to flow again. Once again the locusts sent up their hopeful shoots. They burst triumphantly from the soil. “Aha!” they shouted. “We have persevered and prevailed! Behold, we live!”

Grant mowed them down again.

And every year it’s the same. Hope hangs on through the winter, sends up its green stems, and gets hacked to the ground again. 

Maybe you know how that feels.

Christian poet Luci Shaw wrote a simple poem called “forecast” which says:

Planting seeds
changes my feelings
about rain.

Our world has seen a lot of rain. The past couple of years we’ve slogged through everything from inconvenience and disruption to sickness, loneliness, joblessness, depression, and death. Not to mention how helpless we feel as we see people’s lives ravaged by natural disasters, violence, oppression, and terrible poverty. 

Maybe we’ve tried planting seeds like the poem says, pouring ourselves into relationships, reaching out to others, giving, helping, serving. But for every good shoot that springs up, there seem to be a hundred more weeds that threaten to choke it out. Or a ruthless blade that hacks it down. 

Our world is broken. The curse of sin blights us at every turn. How can we keep planting seeds, how can we light the candle of Hope, when the world we live in is drowning?

12 And again, Isaiah says,

“The Root of Jesse will spring up,
    one who will arise to rule over the nations;
    in him the Gentiles will hope.”[a]

Our God is a Master Gardener. Long ago, he planted a seed in a garden. A seed of promise that he would one day crush the adversary and break the curse that plagues our lives and guarantees our deaths.

For centuries, the people of God held onto that hope and looked for its fulfillment. Until one day, the seed the Gardener had planted began to grow in a dark, secret place – the womb of a virgin girl. And that seed grew and bore incredible fruit. Healing and restoring people. Feeding their bodies and their souls. Even reversing death. He was the fulfillment of all those long years of hope. 

But our corrupt world cut even him down. And he was planted in the most hopeless place – a tomb. 

So what can we say to the locust trees among us? Those who have been cut down over and over again, who have held so desperately to hope for so long but feel their grip is slipping? Why should they raise their heads again?

Because after our brokenness put our best hope in the grave, the sun rose on the third day, and the Root of Jesse had sprung up into a new kind of life. Indestructible life. Life that cannot be cut down again. And – incredibly – he plants the seed of this indestructible life in us through faith. His resurrected life is the mighty Root from which our life springs. 

And our hope – our firm expectation – is that one day there will be no more cutting down. The Risen One will finally, permanently make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.