Why Do We Call Jesus “Root of Jesse”?

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Art/Photography: Upper Section of the Jesse Tree Window from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Chartres, Vassil, PD/CC/SA, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Vitrail_Chartres_210209_18_brighter.jpg

The verses in “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” are comprised of the O Antiphons, ancient titles of our Savior that we as a Church reflect upon in a special way in the octave before Christmas. They are: O Wisdom, O Lord, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David, O Rising Sun, O King of the Nations, and O Emmanuel, acknowledging the saving work of Our Lord through the progression of salvation history.

Though the song, of course, and even though the antiphons are very familiar to me, as I thought on them more intentionally I had to admit that there were a few titles of Jesus that I didn’t understand. No biblical scholar — ha! — the first question to come to mind while looking over the antiphons was: who was Jesse?

I sheepishly opened the laptop — my mom’s, as we were visiting for Thanksgiving — a little bothered that I’d never thought to look it up before. Google quickly informed me that Jesse was King David’s father and that the antiphon was referencing the blessing of the Messiah that would come from the line of David. Isaiah had prophesied that “a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom,” which would be “set up as a signal for the nations,” whom the Gentiles “shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious” (Isaiah 11:1, 10).

Mystery solved. I looked up from the laptop and paused. I was in the playroom supervising my young children and their cousins as the dads and uncles struggled a floor above to put up my parents’ twelve-foot Christmas tree. My sister-in-law and niece sat on the couch next to some little heads huddled over a video game. My two-year-old showed off his reindeer sweater to his much cooler older cousin. My family.

The family. God sent His diving blessing of Jesus through the delicate family. And what nobility that gives our own families. Family meals, sleepovers at the grandparents’, grown children catching up late into the night, the passing around of a new baby from relative to relative: the stuff through which God blesses the world with His Son, His infinite love for us incarnate.

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. 

A beautiful way to pray the O Antiphons this Advent as a family is with Lisa Hendey’s booklet, O Radiant Dawn: 5-Minute Prayers Around the Advent Wreath.  

Copyright 2014, Meg Matenaer

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