Advent Week One – Hope, The Tender Shoot

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Week 1 Hope - The Tender Shoot

Love came down and found me.

It found me.  I couldn’t find it on my own.

Surrounded by darkness, I was lost and didn’t know where to look.

In the dark and the coldness of that long, long Winter, I remember watching the merriment around me – the parties, the lights, the gaiety, all the while my mind and body were screaming from the pain.

Did anyone even notice?

My outward appearance didn’t look tormented to the casual onlooker.  I was still somewhat capable of a good façade.

But it was just a shell.  A shell that encompassed a dry, dead stump.

I remember sitting and looking at the lights glistening on the Christmas tree, yearning to feel the wonder that I had felt every year as a child.  But this year it was gone.  I didn’t feel anything but a dull ache.

And as I looked at the Holy Child laying in the manger, I wondered if I would ever believe again…

The nightmare continued into the New Year.  I spent the next year wondering if this new state of being was one I just had to get used to.  My physical ailments were somewhat improving, but I was convinced that my heart would never revive.

The flourishing, vibrant tree of life that had once grown in my heart was now replaced by a scar – left by the ax that had ruthlessly cut it down.

I didn’t have joy.  I didn’t have hope.  And I didn’t feel God.

As the months passed and December quickly approached again, I remember looking toward the season with fear, for that was when all this weariness began.  I didn’t want to pretend to be happy.  I didn’t want to enter into a season that would beckon my heart to be opened.  Opening the scar of my heart would only remind me of the pain and hopelessness I tried to remain numb to.

I couldn’t reach out.  I didn’t want to hope for more.  It was too hard…too painful.

So He reached out and took hold of me. 

As I sat in the church and listened to the choir sing the words, Peace on Earth and I watched the story of God becoming flesh, of God being born as a helpless babe, I felt His arms surrounding me.  I may have still had questions, and still been hurting, but I knew one thing: He was with me.

It wasn’t that it was the first time I had heard the story.  I knew it well.  Nor was I suddenly healed.  There was still much work to be done in my heart.

But it was in the stillness of that Christmas, the quiet wake of the miracle of His birth, that I saw Him there with me.  I saw that He had been there all along.  In all of the small and quiet moments of that year, His fingerprints were everywhere, weaving my story into His love story written for me.

And for the first time in a long time I felt it:

Hope.

Hope that the barren wasteland of my soul would somehow bring forth life again.  Hope that I knew would not disappoint, because no matter what I felt, My Savior lived, He was mighty to save, and He was coming for me.

“Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot.” Isaiah 11:1

Are you approaching this December with trepidation?  Are you tempted to stick your nose to the grindstone and barrel through so you don’t have to face what the silence will reveal?

Dear one, I know the feeling.

I know what it’s like to want to pretend and ignore.  I know what it’s like to be so used to disappointment that daring to hold on to hope feels like too much of a risk.

You might be in a place so dark that the stump of your heart has grown so dry it would take a miracle for new life to spring forth.

You might be experiencing loss or terrifying circumstances and there is no end in sight.

Or you might be simply run down from the accumulation of a full and busy year.  Your weary heart looks toward the Christmas season as yet another thing to show what a failure you are.

He whispers something to you in the quiet,

You are not a stump.  You have a tree.

“Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot-

yes a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root.

And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him-

the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the Spirit of counsel and might,

the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord….

In that day the heir to David’s throne

will be a banner of salvation to all the world.

The nations will rally to Him,

and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.”    Isaiah 11:1-2, 10

“Out of the last and forgotten son of Jesse comes forth one tender branch that will grow into a crown of thorn . . . a rugged cross . . . your ladder back to God.  Jesus will go to impossible lengths to rescue you.

Out of the stump of that fallen tree, watered with the living waters that flow from the depths of His grace, a twig sprouts.  That twig will be the scepter that defeats your sin . . . and lets you grow again.” – Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

The Tree born from the stump of the forgotten son of Jesse has planted a tender shoot in your heart.  Where it appears dead, weary and lifeless, a glimmer of hope is being planted . . .  a seed of life.

Christmas is about Jesus coming to bring life to the weary, the forgotten and the broken.  It is about a long awaited promise being fulfilled.

When you are weary of waiting, and your soul is dark, remember Hope is knowing that Jesus is holding you. 

Hope is waiting in the silence, while believing that what He says is true.

Believe that even if you feel dead inside, He is life for you.

“Out of the stump of our hearts . . .

In this day, this season, miracles will grow within, unfurl, bear fruit.

And the heart that makes time and space for Him to come will be a glorious place.”  Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift

He is working to make your heart into a garden, a glorious place.  You may not see the fruit yet, but it is growing and all He asks is for you to hope and to have faith that it is there.

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Hebrews 11:1

While we hope in what we do not see, we know that the promise is coming, because He has never broken a promise.  He always comes.

So we wait patiently.

We wait expectantly.

And while we wait, we must be still and make space for Him in our hearts, because it is when we stop avoiding Him, when we slow down, when we open our ears to hear Him, and we await his answer expectantly, that we experience His presence.

His presence is the fulfillment of our Hope, the fulfillment of His promise.

In the dark moments of my life it is not having the answers that gets me through.  It is not believing that everything will work out the way I want it to, it is knowing that He is with me.

The lyrics to the Natalie Grant song, Held flood my mind,

“This is what it means to be held

How it feels, when the sacred it torn from your life

And you survive

This is what it is to be loved and to know

That the promise was that when everything fell

We’d be held”

The promise was that when everything fell, we’d be held.

That is a hope I can put my trust in.

So this Christmas, don’t run from Him.  Don’t doubt Him.

Believe that even in your barren wasteland, He is springing up a tender shoot within you.  He is birthing tiny life, like the tender vulnerable babe He became, and watering it with His grace.

Love has come down for you to find you.  Will you let Him hold you?

 

Your Turn

Please answer the questions below in the comments and share how unwrapping the Greatest Gift is changing your heart this Christmas

  • In what ways do you feel like a lifeless stump, longing for a tender shoot of hope?

 

  • Do you agree that the promise of His hope is fulfilled not in circumstances, but in His presence?

 

  • What makes you shrink back from the stillness?

 If you are writing about Advent, please link up below! The link up is active for a week so you can come back here and link up with any other Advent related posts during the week. Be sure to share and comment on another’s blog!

If you would like to share your posts or resources on the Pinterest boards I have created for Advent, please let me know in the comments and I will email you an invitation!

Be sure to follow my Facebook page during the week for updates on the daily readings and other resources to enhance your worship experience this season!

Finally, for more information on Ann Voskamp’s, “The Greatest Gift”, how to download your own free printable Jesse tree ornaments, and other books and resources, visit http://www.aholyexperience.com/thegreatestchristmas/

20 thoughts on “Advent Week One – Hope, The Tender Shoot

  1. Still working on getting the link up ready! I apologize its not here yet. For now, please just put your link in the comments and I will inform you once it is up! Thank you!

  2. Heather, I am also writing an Advent post each Sunday in my Sunday Reflections…and coincidence or not, my 1st Advent is “waiting brings rise to hope” which is the topic my church chose for the 1st Sunday of Advent. I love reading your posts; they are written so beautifully…and to answer the questions:

    1. Although I am “in the mindset for the season”, I do not have the desire or energy to decorate or prepare other than the writing and church-going and shopping; and ’til NOT the reason for the season for all that “stuff”.
    2. I do agree that the promise of His hope is fulfilled in His presence…
    3. I am not sure what makes me shrink back from the stillness; but it is uncomfortable being in that quiet and stillness that hardly ever surrounds me. I guess because of the noisiness of “life” and my surroundings, that is what makes me shrink back?!

    Thank you, Heather, for encouraging words that make me stop and think about His promises!

    1. Barbara, thank you so much for your kind words! And that it so neat that this post tied in with the one that you rose as well! I’ll be sure to check it out! I can completely relate to what holds you back from the stillness! I find myself uncomfortable as well when the noisiness of my life subsides! Thanks for your comment!

  3. I am also writing on Advent. I am taking each day’s Gospel reading (the reading that is read at Mass each day) and pulling either a word or concept from that reading. Then I write an entry based on that word or concept.

    1. Since you know some of my story, I think you already know the answer to this. It is hard to feel life within you when you cannot even sense His presence.

    2. As much as it pains me to say it, yes, I agree with this. It is painful because I am finding it a difficult thing to believe because of my circumstances and my inability to sense His presence.

    3. I am a mother of three children. My life is almost always in perpetual motion. I crave the stillness and I try to embrace it every chance I get. I’ll admit that there are times I could be more still and I don’t, but it’s not that I am shrinking from it, just that I am out of practice and forgetful at times.

    1. Therese, I was so excited when I saw your comment. I’m so glad that you have decided to join this study. I was going to invite you if you didn’t know about it already! I just love your transparency and how you are willing to voice you struggles with honesty, but at the same time you still are clinging to that hope and not abandoning your faith! Thanks be to God that His Word is more reliable than our feelings, and so that even when we can’t feel Him, we know that He is still there because of what His Word says. Thank you for stopping by, and I look forward to reading your advent series! It sounds really good!

  4. Oh Heather, this is beautiful. Thank you for opening your heart and your home here for us to all share. In many ways, I feel like a lifeless stump. I was nearing burn out at my job before I got laid off, and now that I’ve been laid off, my lack and my burnout has hit me square in the face. I can’t feel His presence most days, but I know He’s there. I long for a real heart encounter, like I use to have when I first came to know Him. And YES, I completely agree that hope is not found in circumstances, but in Him. It’s so easy for me to become wrapped up in it though, and forget that He’s waiting, with open arms, for me to come to Him. I think I shrink back from stillness because I am afraid of what He may say to me, what He may ask of me that I am not yet prepared to give Him. And not being able to tangibly feel His presence makes the waiting in His presence even harder.

    Looking forward to taking this journey with you. So thankful we connected!

    1. Barbie, I am so thankful that we have connected too! You have been such an encouragement to me as I have prepared for this! I am so sorry to hear about your job loss! Defeat and burnout is so discouraging and I think those feelings really do get in the way of really experiencing His presence. It’s something I have been struggling with a lot lately too as I feel like I’m burning the candle at both ends and not seeing great results. Praying for you as you pursue the stillness this Christmas! I know He’s got amazing blessings in store for you! ; )

  5. Sometimes the hope of Christ in us is all that we have while we await His return. The waiting is the hardest part, but it is the part that grows us. The key is for us to remember that the Savior of the world holds us in His perfect hands. May we all remember that this Christmas season. Thank you for the beautiful post and the link-up, Heather.

  6. “In the dark moments of my life it is not having the answers that gets me through. It is not believing that everything will work out the way I want it to, it is knowing that He is with me.”

    My Darling….I remember that season quite well, and I am so thankful that through it all, you were able to sense that God was indeed with you the whole time.
    Your words are a balm to so many, including myself, who need to be reminded of that Hope and presence of our Lord on a daily basis, especially through the Holiday Season, which can be so difficult for so many.
    May God give YOU the strength you need this season!

  7. This is beautiful! I too am reading through Ann’s The Greatest Gift… it’s so powerful and peaceful… it simply causes you to slow down to drink it in! What a blessing!

  8. These are wonderful, hope-filled words. I have often considered how the Easter story reminds us that nothing is ever really dead when God wants it to live. But for the first time this year, I am coming to see that the Christmas story does the same. That Advent, and the longing of a promise fulfilled, brings life to our dead places and hope in the darkness. I’m looking forward to your series.

    1. Oh my gosh, I love that you pointed that out Beth! I have always felt the same way about Easter, but God has been making me see Christmas the same way as well! It is all a beautiful love story that He so intricately written out for us. I feel like I am always on an adventure with Him and hope you do too!

  9. So enjoy this online forum and your posts Heather! Thank you for providing me structured daily advent focus and thought provoking insights & questions! Your questions reminded me (thanks) that the ‘lifeless stumps’ of my life – aka circumstances – have nothing to do with the fulfillment of His promise of Hope. I often act like it does though! Yes, the promise of His hope is fulfilled in his presence, in knowing Jesus with all my heart, soul and mind. However, things that makes me shrink back from the stillness [of knowing him better] is not obeying His commands and teachings from His Word in the hard stuff – loving the unlovable, forgiving are the big ones.

    1. Thank you so much, and you are welcome! I’m so glad that you have joined me! I agree, sometimes His Word reveals sin in our hearts and is hard to face, but I think the more I get to know Him, I am finding His love in the stillness. I hope you do too this Christmas! Oh and just to clarify, I will not have daily posts here on the blog, but I will be posting daily on my Facebook page! I will post again here next Monday! For daily focus, I hope you are blessed by the book and follow me on Facebook! https://www.facebook.com/pages/Heather-Faria/501277393293013?ref=bookmarks

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