19 Dec 2014

O Antiphons 19th December - O Radix Jesse - O Flower of Jesse

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, who stand as an ensign to the peoples, at whom kings stand silent and whom the gentiles seek, come and free us, delay no longer!

Some scripture texts worth pondering as we listen to the antiphon are Isaiah 11.1; Isaiah 11.10; Jeremiah 23. 5-6: Micah 5.1; Romans 15. 8-13; Revelation 5.1-5; Revelation 22.16

The scriptural references for this antiphon are from Isaiah 11: 10-11 (“On that day, the Gentiles shall seek out the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations; his dwelling shall be glorious. On that day, the Lord shall again take it in hand to reclaim the remnant of his people.”), as well as Is. 52:15 (“So shall he startle many nations; because of him kings shall stand speechless”), and perhaps from Paul’s quotation of Isaiah in Romans 12:15 (“And again Isaiah says: “The root of Jesse shall come, raised up to rule the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles hope”).

As we know, the English words for the ever popular Advent song, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel”, are based on the O Antiphons, but with the last antiphon made first. Here is today’s verse, the one based on O Radix:

“O come, O Rod of Jesse’s stem, from ev’ry foe deliver them
That trust your mighty pow’r to save,
And give them victr’y o’er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!”

Our medieval Christian craftsmen and artists created wonderful Jesse trees, the sleeping Jesse at the base with a tree growing out of his loins and on each branch those ancestors of Christ opening out like leaves until we reach the final flowering of Mary with her child Jesus.
Some Jesse trees can be found in manuscripts but there still remain wonderful examples in stained glass and wood and stone carving. Canterbury Cathedral has one fragment of a panel dating from 1150.  In Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire, there is a wonderful north window which combines carved stone images with remaining fragments of medieval glass. In St Mary’s priory, Abergavenny, a most beautiful wooden 15thc Jesse figure is all that remains of the tree!

The Gospel genealogies of Jesus trace his descent from Jesse the father of David. This is to show the fulfillment of Micah’s prophecy, that the Messiah came from David’s royal house and lineage and would be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5.2). The ancient world was fascinated by the genealogy of Kings, because a direct and confirmed lineage proved their right to rule. It’s no wonder that dynastic battles were fought over legitimacy rights, for any suggestion that the person claiming the throne was illegitimate usually meant conflict!
Today we are not so fixed on these claims as our ancestors were, for Christians a new and universal family is constituted, where all are one in Christ (Gal 3.28.) Nevertheless this antiphon acts as a catalyst to help us find our ancestry as children of creation.

In two quotes from Isaiah an image of strong roots and strong growth helps us understand how we too are part of the tree of Jesse. The prophet talks about the shoot that shall come from the stock of Jesse, from which a branch will grow full of fruit ( Is 11.1) On that day when the earth will be ‘filled with the knowledge of the lord as the waters cover the sea’, ‘the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for all the peoples, the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious’(Is 11.9,10).

Because we are grafted on to Christ, our task is to continually bear good fruit, Jesus uses this type of metaphor for good works and acts, but we have also something more poignant to consider.

This root image links us to creation, to the ‘stardust’ which forms the heart of matter and life. O Radix Jesse challenges us to care, with loving concern, for all life’s growth and do everything we can to prevent harm to living creatures and our planet.


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