O Root of Jesse

In the final days of Advent, the church’s daily evening prayer includes a short verse, or antiphon, that highlights one of the scriptural names for the messiah.  Each day’s text begins with “O” followed the designated title, traditionally sung in Latin.  From today through Dec. 23, I’ll post a reflection on the day’s O Antiphon, revised and updated from the series I posted in 2010.  More background information on the O Antiphons is found below each day’s post.

Antiphon of the DayO Flower of Jesse’s stem, you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples; kings stand silent in your presence; the nations bow down in worship before you.  Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

T4734319692_41685dcc72he image of the messiah as a shoot from the root of Jesse, found in Isaiah’s chapter 11, is a poignant one, offering hope during difficult times for the Israelites and for us today.  Renowned primatologist and environmentalist Jane Goodall has used a similar image as the name of her program for young people, called Roots and Shoots. “Roots creep underground everywhere and make a firm foundation. Shoots seem very weak, but to reach the light, they can break open brick walls. Imagine that the brick walls are all the problems we have inflicted on our planet. Hundreds of thousands of roots & shoots, hundreds of thousands of young people around the world, can break through these walls. We CAN change the world,” she says.  With this inspiration, Roots and Shoots groups undertake projects to make positive change for communities, animals and the environment.

About Immanuel, Isaiah tells us “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”  Essentially the messiah is likened to a flowering tree, a symbol of rich and fertile resonance.  In nature, flowering trees came on the scene during the Cretaceous period, about 144 million to 65 million years ago, and are called angiosperms.  2697209953_b16c59e4c7Their evolution to include both male and female reproductive structures within the flowers enabled these species to flourish and diversify. Birds, bats, and insects co-evolved to participate in the process by pollinating other plants and distributing seeds. Like the flowering trees eons ago, Isaiah’s messiah is something new coming forth.  In Immanuel’s reign, there will be flourishing as never before, with justice and peace, and “no harm or ruin on God’s holy mountain.”  Diversity will characterize the messiah’s presence, because the Gentiles too will seek him.  And we might also hope that the messiah will create a flowering of equality between males and females.  Imagine us all together, roots and shoots of Immanuel, breaking through the walls of suffering and injustice.

PrayerO Root of Jesse, break through our fear and grief.  Lead us on the path of growth.

Top photo by Jez Page; bottom photo by .imelda; via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

About the O Antiphons
Although the exact origin of the O Antiphons is unknown, they seem to have been in use for more than 1,000 years. Most of us are more familiar with singing all these names for Jesus in the complete verses of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.” The church’s daily prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office, has mostly been observed by religious communities, especially today in monasteries.  It’s the church’s way of marking the holiness of each part of the day.  Historically, as many as eight “hours” were celebrated during a 24-hour period, but Vatican II emphasized morning and evening prayer for all, not just vowed religious.  The format includes psalms, antiphons, scripture readings, and specific prayers like the Our Father and Magnificat.  At vespers from Dec. 17-23, in early evening, the O Antiphon is recited or sung before the Magnificat.

Perhaps because I love words and enjoy discovering their meanings, the O Antiphons have fascinated me for years though I’ve never prayed them in a communal setting.  I first spent time reading the biblical texts from which the O Antiphons are drawn two years ago for this blog and found it very illuminating.  Taken together they present a mosaic of names for God, disparate pieces joined together creating a beautiful whole that is even richer than the individual antiphons suggest.  My studies of Judaism since I originally undertook this project prompt me to acknowledge that the identification of Hebrew texts with Jesus in no way exhausts their meaning or diminishes their significance for the Jewish faith.
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3 Responses to O Root of Jesse

  1. kate powers says:

    What a rich, deep meditation to ground us in this challenging and complicated time.
    Thank you so much! Kate

  2. Pingback: Fourth Sunday in Advent: Immanuel « hungarywolf

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