Making Room in Advent


Advent, which means “coming, or arrival,” is a gestation process. It is a season of allowing Christ to be formed in us as we also are formed in him. It is also a threshold time, a season of transition between what is and what will be.

As participants in Advent then, we stand between the times. We look forward to the second coming of Christ, but we do so as we look in the rearview mirror at the story of his arrival and the story that came before his birth. Because like with any pregnancy, Jesus was born into history. While he came into the world to do something totally new, he was born into something ancient. It is a story with roots.

For generations, Israel had been longing for the salvation of the Messiah. All of history was setting the stage for him. But the stage Jesus entered was lifeless and withering—the stump of the Jesse tree. This is the metaphor the prophet Isaiah used to describe what the people of Israel had become. The line of the kings of Israel, starting with Jesse’s son David, had been cut down to its roots.

The people of Israel were meant to be a thriving tree reflecting God’s love to the nations, but they withered when they failed to live into this call. They were not characterized by God’s righteousness and justice. And so, they were taken into exile and endured so much damage that only a stump remained.

But God would not abandon this stump. No, God promises in Isaiah 11:1-2:

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;

from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—

the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and of might,

the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord —

Inspired by this passage, I painted the stump of Jesse as a motif in the lower left corner of each painting I created for my new devotional, Making Room in Advent. The new shoot that grows in the stump is the infant Christ in the womb—the ultimate sign of God’s faithfulness and new life. God had reclaimed the surviving remnant of Israel and was carrying out his promise to save all nations through Jesus.

This shoot, as it grew, would rule with true justice on behalf of the needy and poor. Jesus would show us what God’s life-giving, fruitful, and expansive kingdom looks like—a kingdom that grows and stretches to the nations. A kingdom that takes those on the margins— the stranger, the widow, and the orphan—and brings them into the center of his story. Out of the withering stump of Jesse, Jesus would grow into a fruitful tree that gives life to the world. Because this is just what God does.

He makes barren places fruitful.

He renews old places with new life.

He takes what is dying and grows a shoot of hope.

This is what God does when Jesus first enters the scene, and it is what he does through the stories of those who make room for him. Could it be, then, that what seems dead in our world may be the very ground where new life grows? The very place where we have said . . .

“I can never recover from this.”

“It’s too late for me.”

“I have made too many mistakes.”

“No good could come from this.”

“That dream is dead.”

. . . this could be the very place into which God springs new life— from an old, decaying stump.

What is God bringing to life in you?

Adapted from Making Room in Advent by Bette Dickinson. ©2022 by Bette Dickinson and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA . Used by permission of InterVarsity Press. 

Join Our Newsletter