O Antiphons: O Root of Jesse’s Stem
December 17 marked a change in the season of Advent. For those who do not pray the liturgy of the hours, it may be something you have never been aware of before. Each antiphon before the Magnificat (the prayer of Mary) begins with the word “O” and provides a rich theology of how we understand the Christ. It has been a tradition in the Church since the 8th century.
From now until December 23, thefriar.org will post a short reflection on these titles. It is an opportunity to pray and reflect on the richness of the Word becoming flesh. Each title used is an image from the Old Testament that foreshadows and prophesies about the coming of the Messiah, Jesus the Christ. As we look to forward to Christmas, these antiphons remind us that we dwell in the fullness of time, the already here and not yet here time of the Kingdom of God.
While none of these titles fully describe God, they remind us of important attributes of the divine we can never completely grasp. The tension of Jesus being fully divine and fully human is a mystery. I can never be fully resolved. There are times when the divinity of Jesus is so emphasized, we lose sight of the fact God’s love is so great he became one of us fully. At other times, the humanity of Jesus is so emphasized, we lost sight that Jesus is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Use these days to deepen your relationship with Jesus and the Church more fully.
O Root of Jesse’s stem,
sign of God’s love for all his people:
come to save us without delay!
In the second book of Samuel, King David expresses to the prophet Nathan his desire to build a house for the Ark of the Covenant. In other words, David wants to build a house for God. But as is so often true of human endeavors in the presence of God, it is God who turns this desire of David on its head. It is not David who will build a house for God, but God who will build a house for David. While David is a king in an earthly sense, it is important to remember that God is the ultimate king for his people.
To make sure we understand it is Jesus who fulfills the promise made by the Father, we are reminded that Jesus, Emmanuel, like David, comes from the root of Jesse. As king, David holds a privileged place in Jewish history, and so reference to him would have been powerful.
But as great as David was, David was also a flawed figure in human history. Great was his dedication, but great too were his failures. Therefore, God makes the promise about his son. Unlike King David, the Son of God will be great and unflawed. Unlike David, whose people paid the price for David’s sin, Jesus will take on the sin of the people for their salvation. Jesus becomes the sign of God’s salvation, a saving action of grace that is far more powerful than any other.
The most important thing however is that as root of Jesse, David is connected to the long time plan of God. Jesus will be the Son of David, because he comes from the root of Jesse. King David foreshadows a dynasty, because he is of the root of Jesse. When Jesus is born of the root of Jesse, God’s plan is fulfilled.
For the entire season of Advent we offer homilies, reflections and more. December 17 marked a decided shift in the Advent season, where litrugically we are closer to Christmas and focus more on the tremendous love of God made manifest in the Incarnation. As we celebrate God become man, let us ask the Lord to help us to celebrate the ways in which we are invited to share in the love of God. Emmanuel! God is with us! Think of each of the descriptors of God and rejoice in his loving presence in our world, and most especially in your lives.