Thursday, December 5, 2019

"The Littlest Watchman" and the Shoot of Jesse

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;  
from his roots a branch will bear fruit.  
- Isaiah 11:1
So many Nativity picture books begin, as the name suggests, with the Nativity story. But that is not where Advent begins. When we light the first candle of Hope, we are remembering the hope and expectation that Israel experienced as they waited and watched for the Lord’s promised Messiah.

It is hard to teach waiting to small children. Harder still to impart the idea that a whole nation had to wait hundreds and hundreds of years to see a promise fulfilled.

Scott James wrote a book that does this very thing.
The Littlest Watchman is one of the only picture books I’ve come across that uses prophecy to shape a narrative. Now, James does take quite a bit of liberty here in adding a new key character to the timeless Nativity story, however his allegoric approach is genius.

Meet Benjamin, the littlest watchman. Benjamin comes from a family whose job it is to remember the promises of God. They sit and watch a particular tree stump, waiting for a new shoot to spring up. Long ago, their people had been given a promise, and seeing a little twig come up from the middle of the stump would be the sign that God was coming to earth to save his people.

Well, Benjamin waits and waits. He gets bored waiting. He gets frustrated waiting. He wants to give up. But then one day he sees the countryside around him begin to change. A lot of people are traveling. Among them is a pregnant young woman. And then the shepherds in the neighboring fields are surprised by bright lights and heavenly choruses. Benjamin looks back at his tree stump, and then he sees.

Remember the small shoot springing up from the stump of Jesse, the one that the prophet Isaiah foretold? It had finally come to be.

A few years ago, Théa Rosenburg, author of the Little Story, Big Book blog (that first brought The Littlest Watchman to my attention), wrote an article for Deeply Rooted Magazine. In it she said,
What we know as the Christmas story is a startling moment in Scripture when our shadowed world was pierced by a light from without. And though we can tell the story of Jesus' arrival in a picture book or a Christmas reading, let us know that story for what it is: a handful of chapters within a greater story, one that spans the whole history of our world from birth to rebirth. 
Our lives fit into the unwritten chapters between Jude and Revelation, long after the infant Emmanuel grew up, died, rose again, and returned to his home in heaven, but before his return to a remade earth. We were born not into a world that harbors the infant Lord himself, but into a world that reverberates with the echoes of his life and death. Ours is a world that is “groaning together in the pains of childbirth” (Rom. 8:22), looking forward to a time when our Lord will fulfill the words he spoke (again, to John) in Revelation: “Behold, I am making all things new” (21:5).
The Littlest Watchman is a beautiful and poignant Advent picture book. But it also sends out an invitation: Will you join the watch? Because the first Advent is not the only only Advent we are expecting. It is a call to wait patiently and faithfully for the King who came once, and will come again.

1 comment:

  1. Really interesting perspective to work from.....


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