O Radix Jesse and Our Need of Roots 2016

A winter rose shall flower
On Jesse’s ancient stem:
The Word of God unfolding
Before the eyes of men.

That verse from the hymn we sing at Lauds captures something of the freshness and beauty of the imagery behind today’s O antiphon, the grace of growing things, of flowering and fruitfulness:

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!

We think of those beautiful medieval images of Jesse and the great tree of descendants springing from his loins — in stone at Christchurch, wood at Abergavenny and glass and stone at Dorchester — and the genealogies of the gospels which all end with the birth of Christ. Jesus has a human ancestry as flawed and imperfect as our own. His looks, his gait, his mannerisms, all have a human origin. He is, so to say, of the earth, earthy. But there is something more. Before him, the humble Galilean, kings stand silent and gentiles come in search. He, and he alone, can set us free from all that binds us and lead us into the Promised Land where all is peace and joy.

I was thinking about this as I read through the latest grim statistics about refugees and migrants. We in Europe are experiencing the greatest mass movement of peoples since the Second World War. People are being uprooted from all that is familiar by war, economic pressures and the dream of something better existing elsewhere. We need our dreams, but we need our roots even more. For a Christian that means being rooted in Christ, growing in love, compassion and holiness throughout our lives.

We are, of course, always inclined to set limits. We don’t mind being a little stunted, a little pot-bound, it’s more comfortable that way. I’ll love other Christians, but I draw the line at loving Muslims/atheists/blacks/whites/conservatives/liberals (complete as appropriate). But if we read through the genealogies of Christ, we notice an interesting thing. This good Jewish boy, this descendant of David, had some very dodgy ancestors, including a non-Jew and some whose private lives were, to say the least, disreputable. If the Son of God was willing to take his flesh and blood from such, who are we to decide who is or is not a worthy recipient of our love and compassion? If our roots are secure in Christ, there can be no fear of the stranger. Yes, we may be hurt; yes, we may find that we lose much that is precious to us, perhaps even our lives. But we are aware that the tree of Jesse leads inexorably to the Tree of Calvary, that the winter rose has blossomed and filled the whole world with its fruit.

If you would like to read more about Advent and listen to the ‘O’ antiphons sung in Latin according to a traditional plainsong melody, with a brief explanation of the texts and references, see our main site, here. Flash needed to play the music files as I have not yet replaced the player with HTML5