December 6, 202005/18/2021
THE ‘O ANTIPHONS’ PART 2: O LORD & O ROOT OF JESSE “O come, O come, thou Lord of might, who to thy tribes on Sinai’s height in ancient times didst give the Law, in cloud and majesty and awe.”
“O come, thou Rod of Jesse’s stem, from every foe deliver them that trust thy mighty power to save, and give them vict’ry o’er the grave” (O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL, verses 3 & 4).
As we continue our Advent journey toward our celebration of the coming of the Lord, we continue our journey through Advent’s best known and loved hymn, O COME, O COME, EMMANUEL. It is composed of seven, prophetic verses drawn from the Church’s O Antiphons, chanted each evening December 17 23 in anticipation of Christ’s coming and revealing more and more who Christ is and why we want him to come. Last week we reflected on Christ as the Wisdom of God. Today we will reflect on Christ as Lord and Root of Jesse.
In the Old Testament, God is revealed as God of gods and Lord of lords, almighty and above all earthly powers and beings. So awesome is he that to come into his presence unbidden means instant death, and the Israelites are forbidden to even mention his sacred name, referring to him only by his title, ‘Adonai’ Lord. We see this majestic vision of God dramatically play out on Mount Sinai when he gives the people the Law, the sacred covenant binding him and his people, through his servant Moses, the only one God permitted to come up the mountain and be in his presence, symbolized by cloud and flame (Exodus 19).
In the New Testament, God is still revealed as almighty and above all other beings, appearing in cloud and awe, as we see for example at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:1617) and the Transfiguration on a “high mountain” (Matthew 17:1-8). The almighty God, however, has come to his people in a new, more intimate way, not only above us in mystery and awe, but among us in flesh and blood in Jesus of Nazareth. Just as Moses came down the mountain to give the people the Law, sealing their relationship with God, so the “beloved Son” of the Father comes down from his glory as the new Moses, fulfilling the Law and creating a whole new relationship and a whole new way of being the People of God. We know his name and profess it in faith and pray for the day when he will come again in glory “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11).
Jesse’s stem is a reference to the family tree of Jesse of Bethlehem, from whose sons God chose and anointed Israel’s greatest king, David (1 Samuel 16:1-13). While David was far from perfect, what made him great was his fidelity to God, which God rewarded with victory over Israel’s foes and a promise that his descendants would rule over God’s People forever: “I have been with you wherever you went, and I have destroyed all your enemies before you...I will fix a place for my people Israel; I will plant them so that they may dwell in their place without further disturbance. Neither shall the wicked continue to afflict them as they did of old...And when your time comes and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your heir after you, sprung from your loins, and I will make his kingdom firm. It is he who shall build a house for my name. And I will make his royal throne firm forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Samuel 7:9-10, 12-14).
Unfortunately, David’s heirs were not faithful as he was. They abandoned God and his covenant and led the people into idolatry and sin. So God allowed them to be conquered by foreign powers and the people driven into exile far away from the Promised Land. Even when a small remnant returned, they were crushed under the heel of foreign occupiers. That small remnant never gave up hope, though, that God would someday fulfill his promise to David, sending them a righteous king in David’s line who would save them from their enemies and reign over God’s People forever. Jesus is that long-awaited king, the “shoot that shall sprout from the stump of Jesse” and bring victory and eternal peace (Isaiah 11:1-9). His victory is not over fleeting political powers that rise and fall as surely as waves on the sea but over the ageless enemy that has enslaved all people since the dawn of time, the power of sin and death, and his kingdom is not of this world, rushing toward its doom, but over the world that is to come, which knows no end and in which all who serve him as Lord now will reign with him forever. Until that day, like the faithful remnant, we wait in hope, the very spirit of the Advent season.
Fr. Marc Stockton