Sunday, November 25, 2018

Jeremiah 33.14-16: A Righteous Branch

The promise of the righteous branch (Jeremiah 33:14-16) offers hope - to the original hearers of Jeremiah's speech on God's behalf and to us today. It is always a delight to see the first tender green leaves on a twiggy growth. But the hope that is conveyed by the prophet is only needed because the situation in which Jeremiah and his hearers find themselves seems...hopeless. That is, after all, when hope is needed most. There is no justice and righteousness in the land. But when that day comes...there will be one who will, like David, execute justice and righteousness throughout the land.

The image is similar in Isaiah's prophecy of a shoot that will come from the stump of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1). There, too, will be the spirit of the Lord to judge with righteousness and give justice to the poor. Often we see images of a small shoot of green emerging from a crack in the stump of a tree. The sun shines on or through leaves the color of Granny Smith apples, setting up those leaves as the focal point. It is, indeed, the picture of hope for what (or who) is to come.

Anselm Kiefer. Wurzel Jesse (Tree of Jesse). Left: 1987. 95 x 51 inches. Private Collection. 
Right: 2008. Albertina Contemporary, Vienna, Austria. Oil, emulsion, acrylic, shellac, branches coated with plaster, lead clothes and soil on cardboard and plywood, glazed.
Anselm Kiefer chose a different mood. His two versions of Wurzel Jesse (Tree of Jesse) offer a visual that seems to speak more to the situation of Jeremiah than do the brightly-colored, often gilded medieval illustrations of this subject. Kiefer uses (above left) palm root fibers and photography on lead to create a composition of neutrals in tones that seem to speak more to the promise of the growth of a branch than actual growth of green leaves and twigs. The version on the right, created more than a decade later, includes several garments made of lead toward the top of the composition. The images do not seem to lend themselves to thoughts of growth.

In the mood established by their color palette, Kiefer's works echo the images of the after-effects of wildfires. In photos we see charcoal stumps and scorched trunks and we wonder how a branch can come from this.

But the days are surely coming, says the Lord. And in those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David. In those days and at that time from Jesse's roots will come a branch that bears fruit. Promise.

One of the ways to mark the passing of the days of Advent is to create a Jesse Tree, whose ornaments remember the ancestors of Christ in Hebrew scripture. Another "tree" option is the Chrismon tree, found often in Christian churches. The ornaments on a Chrismon tree are symbols of and for Christ. See this week's Art&Faith Matters' Facebook post for a tree-related Chrismon.

For additional thoughts on Jeremiah 33:14-16 and Luke 21:25-36, click here.

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