Readings: Isaiah 11:1-16 / Revelation 22:16
O Radix Jesse,
qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos,
jam noli tardare
O Root of Jesse,
standing as an ensign before the peoples,
before whom all kings are mute,
to whom the nations will do homage;
Come quickly to deliver us.
Tonight is the third of the “golden nights” of Advent on which the church sings her longing cry to Jesus to come and deliver her. Tonight’s “O Antiphon” is the Root of Jesse, the promised shoot from the stump of King David’s family tree that sprouted in the fulness of time in the womb of the Virgin.
“In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.” Leave it to the Lord to make an homely root His banner at which all kings will be silent and all nations will bow. Roots are best left unseen, underground, invisibly drawing up nutrients from the soil, feeding the branches which produce leaves and fruit. Expose the root and the whole tree dies. But cut down the tree even to a stump and it will return, so long as the root is alive.
The Root of Jesse is God’s Promise that David’s throne would stand forever, that a son of David would establish his kingdom and sit on his throne. That promise is the root of Israel’s existence. Even when the tree was cut down, when Israel was reduced to a lifeless stump by her Babylonian captors, the Promise lived in the Root. “Then shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”
I think about that image at this time of year when chopped down trees are a commodity. We picked out the tree for the church and for our living room this past week from a parking lot. Row after row of trees, cut down by the chain saw of Christmas commerce, leaving a lifeless stump in the ground somewhere. Those of you who have cut down trees know what happens to those stumps. They sprout. It’s hard to stop it. You have to kill the root, and when the root is the promise and love of God in His Son, you simply can’t kill it. It always sprouts to life.
Just when King David’s family tree seemed as good as dead, reduced to a stump with Israel carted like a Christmas tree to adorn Babylon’s living room, the promise of God sprouted in Israelite soil, in the obscurity of Nazareth with the word of the angel to the Virgin, “You will conceive and bear a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord god will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He shall riegn over the hosue of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be no end.” King David greater Son, the promised Son and Successor . The shoot, the branch, the tree – the King in His kingdom.
Our sin goes all the way to the root. Not only the fruit, but the whole tree is bad, roots and all. The axe of the Law must be laid to the root. We must die and rise anew. It’s the only way to save us. We must be grafted to new rootstock. We must be joined to the stump of Jesse, fed by the Root of Jesse, nourished by the Promise of God to save.
God grafted His Root to our sin, nailing it to a cross. The Root of Jesse became a banner for the world to see. Jesus of Nazareth. David’s son, David’s Root, David’s Lord. “"I am the root and offspring of David,” Jesus said in the the last of His I AMs (Rev 22:16). He was lifted up on the tree of the cross as a banner for the nations to see. As Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness to be a sacrament of healing, so the Root of Jesse was lifted up on the tree to be the Sacrament of salvation. Here is how God saves from sin and death. He sets the axe of the Law against His own Root, His Son, and then joins you to His death. The cross is the meeting place of God and man, Law and Gospel, wrath and mercy. There the Root absorbs your sin; there He feeds you His righteousness.
When you make a graft into wood, you need to keep the graft moist. The life’s sap of the tree must flow into the branches or the graft and the branch will die. You were grafted to the Root of Jesse in your Baptism. Don’t let the graft dry out; always keep it immersed in baptismal water. Draw on His forgiveness, His life, His salvation. You are living branches grafted to the living Root of Jesse. Jesus is your Vine and your Root. Apart from Him you can do nothing. Joined to Him, believing in Him, you bear much fruit.
Wait patiently on this Root of Jesse. He is the source of your life, who feeds and forgives you, who nourishes and sustains you, and who will come to raise you.