Wednesday, December 20, 2023

From Root of Jesse to True Vine

As early as the sixth century, Christian worship began using a collection of short chants during evening vesper services to usher in the final seven days of Advent before Christmas Eve. These seven songs are called the O Antiphons. If you’ve ever sung all the verses of the nineteenth century hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” then you’ve likely heard the focus of each Antiphon. After invoking “O”, each verse is based on a name of Christ from Old Testament prophecy. You can read more in this Plough article entitled “Divine Light in the O Antiphons”.

1.    “O Sapientia” (Wisdom)
2.    “O Adonai” (Lord)
3.    “O Radix Jesse” (Root of Jesse)
4.    “O Clavis David” (Key of David)
5.    “O Oriens” (Dayspring)
6.    “O Rex Gentium” (King of Nations)
7.    “O Emmanuel” (God with Us)

The O Antiphons are traditionally read from December 17-23. Today’s Antiphon is “O Radix Jesse”, or Root of Jesse:

"O Root of Jesse, which standest for an Ensign of the people,
At Whom the kings shall shut their mouths,
Whom the Gentiles shall seek,
Come to deliver us, do not tarry."

A more dynamic, modern translation is:

"O Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid."

In the book of Isaiah, the Messiah is referred to the Root/Shoot of Jesse two times:
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
    from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
    the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
    the Spirit of counsel and of might,
    the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.

In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.

(Isaiah 11:1-3, 10).
While the focus of Isaiah 11 is often the ancestral lineage of Jesus, the O Antiphon helps us see a theme of wider importance: Nothing will hinder God’s plans of redemption for His people.

As I was listening to the third Advent week of the She Reads Truth podcast, the speakers reflected on this very topic. The guest, Eli Bonilla Jr., commented on how Jesus did not develop something brand new, but stood on the “stump” of His forefathers in order to bring about redemption. He did not do away with the law, the traditions, the practices of His people, instead He fulfilled them, instilling the commandments with a new, everlasting Truth.

The translation of the "O Radix Jesse" Antiphon conjures an image of a flower blooming from a branch growing out of an ancient stump. I don’t know why I’ve never thought of it before, but this brings another growing image to mind. Jesus spoke often of Himself as a descendant (from the root of) David and Jesse, but He also spoke of another horticultural analogy. In John 15, the apostle quotes Jesus’ bold declaration to His disciples:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (John 15:5-8)
As ones who abide with Christ, the True Vine, the Holy Spirit enables us to bear fruit. Fruits of the Spirit like "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Galatians 5:22-23).

Indeed: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.”

The same darkness we feel today was hovering over the Judean world just before Jesus was born. The promised Messiah seemed to be a false hope. All the prophets said He would come from the line of David, but following the exile into Babylon that royal lineage seemed just as thwarted as a stump of a fallen tree.

Yet from everlasting to everlasting, the True Vine was working on carving a path across time and space to provide a renewed hope for a hopeless world. He was born tiny and weak, not much stronger than a twig from a tree stump, but as He grew in the Spirit, the Root of Jesse became a victorious banner of faithful restoration and love.

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