O Radix Jesse: Meditations on the O Antiphons

Sr. Angsar Holmberg, CSJThe third O Antiphon is to the Root of Jesse.

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, who stands as an ensign of the peoples,
before whom kings will shut their mouths,
whom the nations will entreat,
come to free us, refuse now to be hindered.

This antiphon hails Christ as the Root of Jesse. This time, it is not Christ’s divinity that is on display, but his messiahship. The great Wisdom of the Cosmos and Lord of Israel is shown as member and head of the royal house of David.

The first line of this antiphon is drawn from Isaiah 11:10, the second from Isaiah 52:15. Isaiah 11 depicts the “root of Jesse” flowering again; the House of David, whose degraded descendants would lose the throne within two centuries, would produce an heir on whom rested the Divine Spirit. This anointed king would rule with justice and turn Zion into a new Eden, and all the Gentiles would be drawn to him out of their own sin and desolation.

This title is an essentially human one, but not at odds with the previous portraits of his transcendent divinity. These successive antiphons embody the orthodox doctrine that Christ is wholly God and wholly Man. The Son, in assuming humanity, became a part of the same genetic House of David that he elected. Again, we see that the Son in the incarnation has come to inhabit the house he prepared through time. Millennia of longing for the divine were finally answered in a form that could be touched and seen.

To God beyond time, however, the creation and incarnation, the new and the old, were a simultaneous act of grace. By taking into himself matter and time, Christ put on the garment he wove as Logos. Restored by contact with its source, it will be borne resplendent and stainless back to the Father. We participate in this rebound; our righteous deeds are daily worked into this holy raiment.

But before such beautiful theological truths, we must first be struck by the immediacy of Christ and the power of his presence through the incarnation. He does not walk among us today as a mortal among mortals, but he is sacramentally present to us in the Eucharist, and to the world in his body, the Church.

This is his kingdom, which will one day envelop the world. Isaiah prophesied of this when he described a new Zion, a light to the nations. The House of David is fulfilled in Christ in flesh; he overshadows David and Hezekiah and all the kings of all nations on earth. To the God-man has been given all authority; he has set up his throne on his holy mountain in the Church, and the world is drawn by his glory. One day all shall recognize him as lord.

This Christmas, we should reflect anew on the infant in Mary’s arms. O Radix Jesse tells us that this child comes as king of Israel in the flesh, to establish the anciently promised peace of Jerusalem. Though he appears small and fragile, none can ultimately hinder his purpose to redeem the entire cosmos.


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