Every year, the Church throws a curveball at Her clerics – having them read the genealogy of Jesus Christ at Mass. The first is for in December 17 and the second at the vigil of the Nativity of the Lord. The Church clearly intends for Her members to sit with the heritage of our Saviour. We have not one, not two, but three invitations to reflection in this the third of the O Antiphons: “O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!”
This turn of phrase – ‘root of Jesse’ – comes from the prophet Isaiah. The entirety of chapter 11 of the book of the prophet Isaiah details the promise of a new king in the line of King David, bringing with Him a new era of prosperity and peace for God’s people – and it starts with the imagery of today’s antiphon: “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.”
The commentary in the New American Bible observes that the language of ‘shoot’ and ‘stump’ is meant to highlight the failings, corruption even, of the monarchs of old. Despite King David being the greatest of the priests of Israel, he was weak and corrupt – to the point of taking another man’s wife and killing her husband to hide his transgressions. The kings that followed David and his son, Solomon, were progressively worse. Eventually, the entire kingdom of Israel fractured into countless pieces because of the brokenness of their kings.
In reflecting on the antiphon immediately prior to this one, ‘O Adonai’, we saw how God’s people demanded a replacement for the Lord – a request He granted, albeit with significant warnings. But He does not abandon His people, despite their rejection of Him. Not only that, but He promises to remedy their mistake long before the full repercussions have set in!
In reflecting on today’s antiphon, this promise is re-presented to us. May we open ourselves to Him anew, inviting God to restore us to Himself, rooting ourselves once again in Him.