-Harley 1892 f. 31v Tree of Jesse
-by Br Athanasius Murphy, OP
“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 the sign for the peoples,
at Whom kings will shut their mouths,
Whom the nations will entreat:
Come now to free us, and do not delay!
The O Antiphons we sing in Advent give many names to Christ: Wisdom, Lord, Key, Dayspring, King, Emmanuel. One name on the humbler side of titles is Root.
Roots are the hidden plant-parts that keep the rest of the organism aloft. They’re the source of life that make growth and nourishment possible. Christ, by his Incarnation, is no different. Fashioned in the womb and born of Mary, Christ makes us grow from the same shoot that sprung from Jesse. Christ, as God and through his humanity, keeps the Church alive. Here are a few things to remember this Advent about Christ’s human life, and how he’s the root and foundation of our lives.
His obedience. To be obedient means that there’s a good and loving Boss in charge Who’s calling the shots, and you’re okay with that. The Eternal Son of God shares everything equally with the Father, but by His becoming man He also became obedient to the Father. Christ gave His whole life to the Father, becoming obedient even to death on a cross. This is why the Father says throughout the gospels, “This is my Son in Whom I am well pleased” (Mk 1:11, Lk 3:22 Mt 17:5). We may have to learn obedience the hard way, but Christ gives us prodigal sons the grace and example to be newly adopted sons that share the Father’s embrace.
His humility. A humble man recognizes what is above him, and what is below him; what raises him up and what brings him down. Christ humbled himself in taking on our humanity to redeem it. We are made humble when we recognize the sin we’ve chosen below us, and are raised up to God by his mercy when we ask for his help. We learn from Christ because He is meek and humble of heart, and He wants us to take on that same light and easy yoke. The Savior of the universe kneels before his disciples to wash their feet. Pray for humility. You may not wash anybody’s feet this Advent, but you may find the clarity and courage to say sorry for that thing you did months ago to your friend, even if he isn’t expecting an apology. Who knows? You may even find yourself wanting to go back to confession before Christmas.
His prayer. When Christ as man prayed He spoke not to a distant God, but to the Father from Whom He as the Son proceeds eternally and loves infinitely. Christ prayed in the depths of His soul about His life and for us. His prayer, like His life, was always directed toward the Father. He begged the Father on our behalf to forgive our sins and keep us away from our misgivings, temptations, annoyances, and anything else that keeps us from the Father’s love. Jesus wants us to pray like He does, and we learn to pray well when we learn to be beggars for God’s grace. Jesus tells us “whatever you ask in My name I will do it” (Jn 14). Take Him up on His word, and pray in the name of Jesus that the person in your life who really needs divine help will get it in the best way God knows how.
His patience. To have real patience is a rare thing. It’s not only enduring serious trials but doing so because your eyes are fixed on a further goal that makes the present pains worth bearing. The greatest goal we can hope for while on earth is heaven. Christ’s gaze in His earthly life never left heaven, not because He lacked or needed it, but because He wants us to have by grace the sonship that He has by nature. Christ became man to live a fully human life, but also to die a fully human death, and this took patience. He had patience with sinners, pharisees and puppet kings, and Roman soldiers trained in torture. He did this for us, with His eyes fixed on the Father, so that we could one day behold the Father face to face ourselves.
At the seat of all these virtues is Christ’s love. Jesus loves more than any human heart can ever love, and it’s this love that brought the Son to take on our humanity in the first place. We call Christ the root because He’s the source of any good and any grace we can have. We’re grafted onto the same tree of Jesse that tears us away from death.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them vict’ry o’er the grave.
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.”
“There is a flower sprung of a tree,
The root thereof is called Jesse,
A flower of price;
There is none such in paradise.
This flower is fair and fresh of hue;
It fades never, but ever is new;
The blessed branch where this flower grew
Was Mary mild who bore Jesu,
A flower of grace!
Against all sorrow it is solace.
The seed thereof was of God’s sending,
Which God himself sowed with his hand;
In Bethlehem, in that holy land,
Within her bower he there her found.
This blessed flower
Sprang never but in Mary’s bower.
When Gabriel this maiden met,
With “Ave, Maria,” he her gret [greeted]
Between them two this flower was set,
And was kept, no man should wit, [know]
Til on a day
In Bethlehem, it began to spread and spray.
When that flower began to spread,
And his blossom to bud,
Rich and poor of every seed, [i.e. kind]
They marvelled how this flower might spread,
Until kings three
That blessed flower came to see.
Angels there came out of their tower
To look upon this fresh flower,
How fair He was in His color,
And how sweet in His savor,
And to behold
How such a flower might spring amid the cold.
Of lily, of rose on ryse, [branch]
Of primrose, and of fleur-de-lys,
Of all the flowers at my devyse [I can think of],
That flower of Jesse yet bears the prize,
As the best remedy
To ease our sorrows in every part.
I pray you, flowers of this country,
Wherever ye go, wherever ye be,
Hold up the flower of good Jesse,
Above your freshness and your beauty,
As fairest of all,
Which ever was and ever shall be.
-John Audelay’s beautiful fifteenth-century carol ‘There is a floure’.