Forming Faith Blog

A Sprout of Righteousness (December 1, 2019)

A green plant sprouting from the earth. God promises to send a Sprout or righteousness.
Advent: Awaiting the Promise

This week begins Advent, the season of waiting. In the church, we have a double waiting for a double advent (coming). In our Scripture readings, we hear of the people of Israel waiting for God’s deliverance, especially for the coming of the Messiah. And, we wait for Jesus to bring the kingdom of God in its fullness. Outside of the church, we are waiting, and preparing, for the biggest commercial and family holiday of the year, Gift-mas. For all of these, especially the last, we can be waiting with eagerness, hope, and joy, or we can wait with fear, anxiety, stress, and sadness. We cannot forget that this “most wonderful time of the year” can be an unbearable burden for some.

However, in the midst of both joy and sadness, we can cling to hope. Our God is a God who makes promises and fulfills them. God made promises to the people of Israel of return from exile and the coming of a Messiah. God kept those promises. God promised them, and us, the establishment of a world based on justice and righteousness. This is the kingdom of God whose advent we see in the birth of the incarnate Son of God and for whose fulfillment we eagerly await in the future.

Righteousness

One of my struggles in growing into my mature faith, coming out of a conservative background, is the meaning of righteousness. In my mind, this concept is stuck in personal morality and then in Jesus’ righteousness in my personal salvation (which is about my personal eternal future). I’m not ready to reject any of that, but my study of Scripture, especially the Hebrew Bible, has shown me that this is only a small portion of the biblical concept.

Justice & Righteousness

The twin concepts of justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tzedakah) are fundamental to the message of the prophets and the Torah as a whole. In a beautiful blog post, “Tzedakah: The Untranslatable Virtue,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explains that these two terms encompass the social commands of just judgment (retributive justice) and, for lack of a better term, social justice (distributive justice). Together, these form the foundation for “the way of the Lord,” what we call the kingdom of God.

In the kingdom of God, no one is wrongly convicted, neither in a court of law or our personal opinion. In the kingdom of God, everyone has everything they need, including their dignity. Justice and righteousness are requirements for all, but they are particularly directed at the powerful. The powerful are rarely wrongly convicted but more often wrongly acquitted. They are not denied the necessities of life but often hold onto more than they need. The promise of justice and righteousness is good news to those who have been denied justice and lack the necessities of life but is bad news for those who have much but are unwilling to share.

A Righteous Branch

God will fulfill the promise, or using another way to translate verse 14, God will do that good thing that God said. In verse 15, this promise will be fulfilled with a sprout (growth or branch), language reminiscent of Isaiah 11:1-5. This is a sprout of tzedakah—righteousness and justice for those who are oppressed. I’m not fond of how the NRSV translates the next line as “he will execute justice and righteousness.” The connotation of “execute” here, especially right next to “justice” has a very punishment-oriented feel to it in English. Doing a very quick word study, the word here is used in the first two chapters of Genesis to describe making and creating. When related to plants or trees, it seems to be translated as yielding or bearing, which seems fitting to our passage today. This sprout or branch yields the fruit of justice and righteousness, it (he) creates them.

A Small Sprout

Looking toward Christmas, I like the image of the Messiah as a sprout, a young growth. Sprouts start out very small, just as Jesus did. While a sprout is still small, the yield is still a promise yet to be fulfilled. But, with God’s guarantee behind it, we can trust that the growth will mature and bear much fruit. In addition to Jesus’ physical body, the kingdom itself starts out as a small growth (like a mustard seed, perhaps). This small sprout is growing, but the promise of complete fulfillment is still in our future.

Branches of Tzedakah

To unceremoniously mash together two Bible verses, not only is Jesus the branch of tzedakah, but we are also called branches (John 15:5). Jesus bears the fruit of justice and righteousness, and we are called to bear good fruit, which I cannot see as anything other than the same. So, as we do our double waiting this Advent, what better way to pass the time is there than to enact the justice and righteousness of the kingdom of God?

Free Resource

Our resource this week, “Advent Practice” is a simple activity that divides a group into pairs or small groups and challenges each to decide on a faith practice to commit to doing this Advent season. The partners are also called on to keep each other accountable to this.

This resource is from our Living the Word: Small Groups discussion guides. While the target age group here is adults (young and otherwise), it would not be difficult to adapt this other age groups, especially a cross+generational setting. Can you imagine the impact of a non-related adult and child or youth paired up and checking on each other’s faith commitments during the week or even the following Sunday?

Boldly go in God’s grace!

In Christ,

-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)

If you would like to know more about our perspectives on faith formation and cross+gen ministry, you can check out the following links:

For more great ideas on how to engage participants of all ages in the story of God’s love, check out our complete Living the Word series for elementary students, youth, adults, and intergenerational settings!

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