In these final days of Advent, in the last few days before Christmas, we are continuing our journey through the ancient antiphons for Evening Prayer, the Great Os. Today, on 19th December, we come to ‘O Root of Jesse’.
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. (Cf Isaiah 11:10, 45:14. 52:15; Romans 15:12)
In the Old Testament, Jesse is the father of King David and Matthew’s Gospel begins with verses we don’t hear very often in our services because they can sound like just a list of names, which they are. Read flatly, this can sound like the telephone directory. But it is far more than just a list of names; this is Jesus’ “Who do you think you are” moment, like on the TV show. His family tree is laid out before us. And it’s a surprise.
It starts with Abraham and works its way through the generations until we arrive at Joseph, husband of Mary. This takes us through King David, the one whom the Messiah, the promised one, had the great call back to. The Messiah was looked to as the new King David, to be in David’s line – to sit at the end of this family tree.
In art, this has been shown as a Jesse Tree. The root actually comes from Abraham, but it is referred to in the Bible as the stock of Jesse. The tree shows Jesus fulfilling the hopes of all the years, of all the history and the culmination of the journey of the ancient Hebrew people.
Day 3, the 19th December, brings us a tree, so I am going to hang this tree on our tree. A Christmas tree does not have to be the pagan symbol some say it is. It can be a sign of Jesus fulfilling the covenant between God and humanity. And so today the whole tree becomes our symbol – but with a small tree hanging on it as today’s contribution.
O Root of Jesse,
who was and is and is to come.
Graft into our hearts true love for you,
that loving you we may serve you
and follow you through joys and sorrows,
strains and celebrations,
doubts and convictions.
Come to our salvation
Come, Lord Jesus.
Advent Antiphons from ‘Common Worship: Daily Prayer’ is copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2005.
Prayers taken from Ian Black ‘Intercessions for the Calendar of Saints and Holy Days’ (2005, SPCK)
Text of an Advent Reflection, streamed online for Peterborough Parish Church, 19th December 2020.