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.
cf Isaiah 11.10; 45.14; 52.15; Romans 15.12
Listen to Kathryn sing this antiphon:
One of the great themes of advent is that of hope. Out of all the advent antiphons I think that perhaps the strange ‘Root of Jesse’ most represents that. In Isaiah 10:33-34 we have an image of the LORD lopping down the trees of the proud and mighty so that all that is left of Israel and its leaders are a series of tree stumps. Then, in chapter 11 Isaiah says:
A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And then in verse 10, to use a ‘Christmassy’ phrase – ‘this will be a sign to you’:
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
By the time of Jesus there seemed to be no hope for Israel. There had not been a prophet for hundreds of years (hence the excitement around John the Baptist). The hope of Israel looked like a dead tree stump and from this unexpected place of humility (Isaiah uses the father of the great David, Jesse’s name to show how diminished his house had become) comes new life, a new shoot, vulnerable but vibrant.
Hope is come.
The only modern image I can think of is from the Lord of the Rings (I’ve got it on the brain a bit having seen the excellent Hobbit movie this weekend!) In the Return of the King in the city of the King stands a dead tree. In the story when this tree begins to flower again it signifies the return of the king to his throne. Tolkien must have got his inspiration from the Root of Jesse!
View video: The problems of Gondor
Gandalf: ‘The tree will never bloom again’
Pippin: ‘Why are they still guarding it?’
Gandalf: ‘They guard it because they have hope’