O Root of Jesse: come and deliver us

The 3rd of the Advent O Antiphons (refrains) sung with the Magnificat (song of Mary) at Evening Prayer today is 'O Radix Jesse' meaning 'O Root of Jesse'.

If you don't know what the Advent O Antiphons are take a look at the 1st post in this daily 2016 series for the last week of Advent. 

What's the 'Root of Jesse' got to do with the run-up to Christmas? Why refer to Jesse in this last week of Advent? Who was Jesse anyway?

Many hundreds of years before Christ, Jesse was a sheep farmer in Bethlehem and father of many children.

Jesse was faithful to God and is significant as the father of his youngest child David who was anointed by the prophet Samuel to be King over Israel. (You can read that story in 1 Samuel 16: 1 - 13).

Both Jesse and King David are listed in the Gospel of Matthew's genealogy of
"Joseph the husband of Mary, 
of whom Jesus was born, 
who is called the Messiah." (Matthew 1: 1 - 17)

By the time of the prophet Isaiah, the family of Jesse's descendants had been severely pruned after the destruction of Jerusalem and his people's exile in ancient Babylon. Into that time of hopelessness the prophet Isaiah brings messages of hope. One of these is Isaiah 11: 1 - 11. It is one of the Bible passages on which today's antiphon, 'O Root of Jesse' is based. It begins:
"A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding, 
the spirit of counsel and might, 
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord."

Christians link the image of the young shoot coming from an old stump/roots with Jesus as the One coming to save.

Jane Livesey SJ wrote a helpful reflection on the O Radix antiphon and the problem of holding on to hope in the current dreadful situations of our human common home, this earth. 

Here is a short extract:
"As we end a calendar year full of trauma, a year which has seen political as well as geological earthquakes in more than one part of ‘our common home’, we too might be tempted to think that Jesse’s stem is now more of a stump, planted in such arid ground that it can no longer flower. This is the ground of xenophobia, of political extremism, of continued wars and acts of terrorism, of an endless stream of refugees and migrants and of trafficked human beings, including children. Like the people of Israel, we might find it hard to maintain hope in the face of such unrelenting ‘bad news’. We might find it hard to imagine how God is going to bring about His salvation in the midst of so much suffering. We might wonder if He can ‘hear the cry of the poor’, and what He is going to do about it if He does hear it. The answer to all those wonderings is the same answer that God gave to His people through Isaiah – I have not abandoned you even if you abandoned Me. Amidst all these signs of death and aridity, I will bring forth a new shoot. It will be a fragile shoot; it will grow quietly and without drawing attention to itself and it will require tending and watering. You will need to pay attention to it and to nurture it in order not to be overwhelmed by all that you see and hear and experience in this new period of Exile being experienced by Yahweh’s people in so many parts of the world. 
Advent is the time and place to begin to cultivate that attentiveness to the shoot called hope. It is the time to foster our hope and our faith that God will come among His people. He will come in the form of a fragile shoot, but with roots strong and deep enough to deal with the trauma of the world on which He has come to pour balm – the astringent balm of the life, death and resurrection of his Son Jesus."
You can read the full article at Thinking Faith here.

An English translation of the original Latin antiphon for today is:
"O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us and delay no longer."

Here is a sung version with accompanying images to encourage hope.





Image Credit: Image of painting by Sister Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ 

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