The Tree of Jesse window of Chartres Cathedral, showing here the first, or base, panel of the seven panels arranged vertically. Jesse (center), the father of David who would become King; Nahum (left), prophet of 7th century BCE; Joel (right), prophet of 5th century BCE.
Would that there were kings in Gondor, as there were once upon a time, they say! For it is said in old lore: ‘The hands of the king are the hands of a healer. And so the rightful king could ever be known.’ (J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King)
Isaiah 11:1 foretells the coming of a new kind of king, in contrast to the old kind of king whose often calamitous exercise of power explained the traumatic history of the kingship in Israel and Judah. Suddenly there is hope:
That adjective “traumatic” corresponds to the starkly uncomfortable image of the “stump” of Jesse. The “stump” suggests a king whose genitals have been severed, leaving a bloody stump there. The historical fact is that the Davidic line of kings had been severed, ended, finally in the 6th century BCE, with the definitive destruction of the Temple (never to be rebuilt), the utter destruction of Jerusalem, and a forced removal of the leadership of Judea, spiritual and political, into the “Babylonian Exile”.
The “stump” image indicates a vengeful humiliating of the kings (by their enemies) – their “unmanning”, and of the ending of their ability to produce any more like them, whom they could then send into the world to rule by hereditary right. Tough image.
The biblical context reminds of kings, of a procession of kings, who had brought this most personal catastrophe upon themselves, when the desiccating effects of their impotent leadership of those entrusted them by God to guard and guide could not be ignored any longer. We recall what God Himself had communicated to Ezekiel, the prophet:
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to them: To the shepherds, thus says the Lord God: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves! Should not shepherds pasture the flock? You consumed milk, wore wool, and slaughtered fatlings, but the flock you did not pasture. You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured. You did not bring back the stray or seek the lost but ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered for lack of a shepherd and became food for all the wild beasts. They were scattered and wandered over all the mountains and high hills; over the entire surface of the earth my sheep were scattered. No one looked after them or searched for them. 
But how is it possible that the image of the “stump” is where the image of hope is to be found?
Notice that the prophecy at Isaiah 11:1 does not look for a new dynastic line, sourced in another family not David’s. No, not that. At the “stump” (of Jesse, David’s father) a “shoot shall sprout”. Right there at the point of the deepest wound is where God brings forth “a bud” from a “shoot”, which is an active potency for “blossoming” … and the blossoming has already begun.
And in order to make clear to us the inexorable purpose of God to fulfill His promise to His friend David, and to his progeny, the artist of the Chartres Cathedral Tree of Jesse window makes that “shoot” overtly, robustly strong (no tender “shoot” there!), such that it seems a tree of Oak rather than a “shoot” proceeding up from Jesse’s loins.
In God’s choice to do this, we are meant to grasp something profound about what God does with the catastrophes we unceasingly perpetuate on ourselves. God delivers His presence to the location of the deepest wound that we have sustained, where it cannot be possible for life any more to be. And there, right there, God with effortless capability, and showing us deepest courtesy, brings forth LIFE: tender shoot, bud, and then the blossoming.
The great Tree of Jesse window – the beauty that it is; the choices the artist made in designing and executing it; the divine truth it expresses – can only be seen when the light comes through the window. Perhaps it is always the case that when we suffer catastrophe, when the meaning of our life is not clear to us, is “darkened,” that is when we seek the Light most honestly, asking that it be sent us. And what that Light illumines is our history, showing us how we have been here before, and making us see again the faithfulness of God. Out of this illumination blossoms in us the supernatural gift of HOPE – “a shoot shall sprout from the stump” – experienced as a longing for genuine leadership that such hope allows us again to imagine:
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him:
a spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
A spirit of counsel and of strength,
a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the Lord,
3 and his delight shall be the fear of the Lord.
Not by appearance shall he judge,
nor by hearsay shall he decide,
4 But he shall judge the poor with justice,
and decide fairly for the land’s afflicted.
He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
5 Justice shall be the band around his waist,
and faithfulness a belt upon his hips. 
A TASK FOR WEEK ONE OF ADVENT: Consider this week how the Holy Spirit has been given to you, promised us by Jesus Himself: “And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it [i.e., the truth]. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.” (see John 14:15-30) This that Isaiah prophesied about a future king coming from the line of David has been definitively interpreted by Christ as being about us – of royal blood by adoption, if you will. Consider the exercise of your own kingship in light of your exercise of what came to be known as the “seven gifts of the Holy Spirit” (verses 2-3a). Have those born fruit in ways the ancient prophecy said that those gifts would (see verses 3b-5)?
 See, for example: http://chartrescathedral.net/chartres-cathedral-stained-glass/. As one comes towards the Great Doors (the main entrance – the West Entrance) of the Cathedral, one sees three enormous “lancet” windows set in the wall above each of the three doors of the main entrance. The Tree of Jesse lancet window sits above the door on the left: “On the façade are the 12th-century lancets of the Tree of Jesse [left], the Nativity [center] and the Passion [right], and above them the west rose window whose theme is the Last Judgement.” It is interesting that the great west-entrance rose window that oversees one’s entrance into the church is the one to do with the End of all things, and of all of us standing before the Judge – the Christ in glory. See also: http://www.medart.pitt.edu/image/France/Chartres/Chartres-Cathedral/Windows/West-windows/143-Rose/chartres-143WRose-main.html.
 See UNESCO World Heritage site: https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/81. “Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral, located in the Centre-Val-de-Loire region, is one of the most authentic and complete works of religious architecture of the early 13th century. It was the destination of a pilgrimage dedicated to the Virgin Mary, among the most popular in all medieval Western Christianity. Because of the unity of its architecture and decoration, the result of research of the first Gothic era, its immense influence on the art of Middle Age Christianity, Chartres Cathedral appears as an essential landmark in the history of medieval architecture. The outstanding stained-glass ensemble, monumental statuary of the 12th and 13th centuries and the painted decorations miraculously preserved from the ravages of humankind and time, make Chartres one of the most admirable and the best-preserved examples of Gothic art.”
 Tolkien, J.R.R.. The Return of the King: Book III of the Lord of the Rings (p. 150). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
 Concerning Isaiah, succinctly portrayed, see The Catholic Study Bible (NABRE), 3rd edition (Oxford, 2010): “The vision of the Lord enthroned in glory [Isaiah 6] stamps an indelible character on Isaiah’s ministry and provides a key to the understanding of his message. The majesty, holiness and glory of the Lord took possession of his spirit and, at the same time, he gained a new awareness of human pettiness and sinfulness. The enormous abyss between God’s sovereign holiness and human sinfulness overwhelmed the prophet.”
* Shoot … stump: the imagery suggests the bankruptcy of the monarchy as embodied in the historical kings, along with the need for a new beginning, to spring from the very origin from which David and his dynasty arose. Jesse: David’s father (cf. 1 Sm 16:1–13).
 Richard D. Nelson in the New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible notes concerning the Davidic Covenant: “God’s unilateral promise of dynastic permanence for David and his descendants, either unconditional or conditional, is often called the Davidic covenant.” It is easy to imagine the theological crisis caused by the two-part severing of the Davidic line of kings: first when ten of the Twelve Tribes of Israel removed themselves from under the Davidic kingship (creating in its place the Northern Kingdom in the mid-9th century BCE), and, second, when the Neo-Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, annexed Judea, and deported all leaders to Babylon (6th century BCE). What happened, they must have asked, to God’s “unilateral promise of dynastic permanence”? Is God weaker than human rulers and empires, weaker than the Babylonians in this case?
 After the death of King Solomon, David’s son by Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite, ten of the Twelve Tribes “severed” their association with the Davidic line of kings, setting up for themselves what became called the Northern Kingdom (existing from 930 BCE to 720 BCE). With their destruction by the Neo-Assyrian Empire in 720 BCE, and having suffered the exiling of their populace, these Ten Tribes became “the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel”, which then disappeared from history.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the noun/adverb/adjective “vengeance”: “The act of avenging oneself or another; retributive infliction of injury or punishment; hurt or harm done from vindictive motives.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the noun “desiccation” – “The action of making quite dry; depriving or freeing of moisture; dried up condition.” In the ancient Near East, but also throughout literature (see as recently as Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea books), the realm of Evil, where demons had their dwelling place, was in the desert, in the drylands. Evil’s effect on living things is to “desiccate” them. And when one recalls that human beings are up to 60% constituted of water, the image has even more force. See USGS Water Science School: “According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry #158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%.”
 The Oxford English Dictionary at the adjective/noun “impotent” – “Having no power or ability to accomplish anything; powerless, helpless; ineffective.” The issue here, concerning the record of the kingship in Israel and Judah, is not so much them lacking ability to accomplish anything, as it was their lacking ability to accomplish anything truly worthwhile, truly for the good of their people, and an enduring good for them according to the guidance of God Himself given them through the prophets. But the word “impotent” also means, and therefore in specific relation to the “stump” of Jesse, “wholly lacking in sexual power; incapable of reproduction.”
* Shepherds: the leaders of the people. A frequent title for kings and deities in the ancient Near East; the ideal ruler took care of his subjects and anticipated their needs. Ezekiel’s oracle broadens the reference to include the whole class of Jerusalem’s leaders (v. 17). The prophet assures his audience, the exiles in Babylon, that God holds these leaders responsible for what has happened to Jerusalem and will give Israel a new shepherd worthy of the title.
 Wikipedia notes: “The most typical form which the Jesse Tree takes is to show the figure of Jesse, often larger than all the rest, reclining or sleeping (perhaps by analogy to Adam when his rib was taken) at the foot of the pictorial space. From his side or his navel springs the trunk of a tree or vine which ascends, branching to either side. On the branches, usually surrounded by formally scrolling tendrils of foliage, are figures representing the ancestors of Christ. The trunk generally ascends vertically to Mary and then Christ at the top.” The Tree of Jesse window at Chartres follows this “most typical” presentation.
 As to Jesse’s two companions that the artist chose to place in that base-panel of the Tree of Jesse window, we wonder why they are there. Nahum’s prophecy was directed at the Neo-Assyrian Empire that had destroyed utterly, and wiped from history completely, the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722/21 BCE. Nahum preached his message at the time, 621 BCE, when finally, the Assyrians were themselves destroyed, by the Neo-Babylonians. Sometime during 450-400 BCE, Joel, preached his message to the post-Exilic Jews whose very existence, one year, was in danger because of a drought, and then a locust invasion, that obliterated their food supply. Their experience of “fragility” of both their personal and national existence was an occasion for Joel to remind the people of the importance of reliance on God.
 The Oxford English Dictionary at “inexorable” – “Incapable of being persuaded or moved by entreaty; that cannot be prevailed upon to yield to request, esp. in the way of mercy or indulgence; not to be moved from one’s purpose or determination; relentless, rigidly severe.”