Last week my family had the privilege of visiting Volcanoes National Park on the “big island” of Hawaii. My first time in the proximity of an active volcano is an experience I will never forget. The acrid smell of steaming sulfur, and images of the bubbling lava of the Halema’uma’u Crater, scenic coastlines, beaches of black and olivine sand, and miles and miles of hardened lava-flow will forever be etched in my memory. One particular picture stands out in my mind as I review our activities of the week–that of a tiny, bright green tree struggling to grow in the surface of the Kilauea Iki Crater. Several such trees, some with vivid red blossoms, dotted the landscape of this mile long, half-mile wide hardened lava lake. Formed by the 1959 eruption of the Kilauea Volcano, the lava pool took thirty-six years to harden (although the core is still steaming) and foliage is just now beginning to take root in the crust and establish itself.
As I stood in the midst of this vast expanse of devastated earth and observed this tree, I thought of Ezekiel in the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37). God’s people, along with their capital city and temple, had been destroyed by an invading army from the north, and the scattered remnant would lay dormant in exile for seventy years. But God promised through Ezekiel that these dry bones, representative of His despairing people, would live again. Although the people said, “our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off (Ezekiel 37:11),” God would raise them up, breathe life into them, and restore them to their land (Ezekiel 37:14). Out of utter devastation, they would rise.
Then, even beyond this temporal hope of restoration, God offered His people an eternal hope. God would “raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land (Jeremiah 23:5).” This “Root of Jesse” would “stand as a signal for the peoples (Isaiah 11:10).” Hundreds of years later the Messiah, as promised, was born in Bethlehem. This baby—the Branch, the Root of Jesse–came to move those who believe in Him, Jews and Gentiles alike, from death to life (John 5:24, Romans 15:12, Romans 10:9-10). He came to a human race held captive by sin and helplessly separated from God (Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23), took the punishment for that sin by giving His very life, and was raised in victory over death (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). In the midst of humanity’s darkness and confusion, He became the light of life (John 1:4-5). To those who believe in Him, he gives victory over sin and death, and the promise of eternal life (1 Corinthians 15:51-57, John 3:16).
Just as that tiny tree in the Kilauea Iki lava lake stands as a symbol of hope—of future thriving forestation—so the baby in the manger, celebrated on Christmas Day, stands as a beacon of hope for all mankind. From the utter devastation of sin, by the power of Jesus Christ, we will rise.