The day has finally turned snowy, just as the forecast said it would. I’d slept in a little this morning, resting after a long day on Saturday filled with the farmer’s market, farm chores, and a successful late afternoon hunt. We knew the weather was forecast to be foul on Sunday, especially further west where we go to church, so we’d made the decision to “shelter in place.”
When I arrived at the barns to do the morning feeding, I was greeted by one of the sheep, “Tess.” Tess was just off to the side of the road, nursing a newborn lamb while her other lamb lay next to her. Twins, alive and well, just a little over an hour old. Grace and I got them up into the barn to keep them out of the weather for the next couple of days. No real surprises, simply pleasant farm life following a likely pattern.
I finished feeding, making sure everything had water, feed, and sufficient bedding to stay warm. Toward the end of the chores, the snow/sleet had begun to fall. Finally, we had our breakfast and then settled down to a time of family worship, as we would miss going to church today.
Everything about what I’ve just described was expected and likely – the result of planning and working within a natural system that is predictable (a pregnant animal will give birth on a snowy cold day, etc.). Gestation periods are fixed things; strong animals make better breeding stock; quality feed gives quality results.
So when things come along that shake up our expectations, we take notice. Especially when it involves people and outcomes.
I’m always struck when I meet someone in a certain situation that would seem to dictate a certain background and find that I’m completely wrong, like the carpenter with a master’s degree in philosophy or the farmer with a Ph.D. Yes, these are real people, and I bet you’ve been similarly surprised by people yourself, good and bad.
Today’s scripture reading from Isaiah starts with the unlikely and unexpected – a stump (family line) branching out and re-establishing itself as a tree. And not just any tree, but as a tree that will eventually change the natural order of the world, wiping away the prey/predator distinction and the fear that comes with it (Is. 11).
I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods as a logger/sawmill operator and as a gatherer of firewood. I joke that I have no need of scary amusement park rides when I can go cut down a tree. Most of the time, a stump simply rots away; sometimes it will send up a new shoot. Never have I seen the new shoot become a dominant tree. A stump speaks of destruction and death, seldom new life for the individual tree.
Yet Isaiah sees the family line of King David as a stump come back to life. David himself was unlikely and unexpected, the youngest son, sent away to tend the sheep while his older brothers were presented before the prophet Samuel. But God likes unlikely and unexpected.
When John the Baptizer is preaching in the wilderness, it rings with the unlikely and the unexpected. John doesn’t dress for success, doesn’t worry about people’s feelings, and really works to repel the moneyed and powerful. He’s doing everything the “big church” people couldn’t imagine. But John’s not trying to build his own kingdom; instead he’s busy pointing the way to someone greater – the root of Jesse that Isaiah wrote about, Jesus.
God loves using the unlikely and the unexpected, the poor and the insignificant, the lost and the hopeless. His grace and power falls to the humble, the meek, and the spiritually impoverished – people who know their need and are not afraid or embarrassed to cry out to Him for relief.