Sunday, December 19, 2010

O Antiphons- O Radix 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 Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.

From our emphasis on God's might in the last entry, we move to considering what kind of kingdom we anticipate Jesus, as the Messiah, will inaugurate. This movement, I think, is a crucial one because it is entirely possible to have the concept of a mighty God, but one which primarily engages in indiscriminate smiting; a harsh judgemental God who punishes more than saves, who curses more than blesses. I certainly know people who struggle with that concept of a God and it is difficult to have faith in a divine being who is fundamentally a tyrant. How are you supposed to have faith in someone who is, fundamentally, cruel and arbitrary? You can't.
Yet, I also know that this isn't the God I worship. The Christian God, contrary to the views of some Christians, is one of grace and love. Indeed, Jesus' own life, as we discussed in the last entry, confounds that image, both in the hiddeness of Jesus' power and in his willingness to lead the way through a completely undeserved death to a salvation that no one could have anticipated. That salvation begins now, but leads directly to the vision of God's peaceable kingdom to which this antiphon alludes today.

The crucial biblical passage for this vision is Isaiah 11, 1-10. It is worth quoting the passage at length:

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.

3 His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;

4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.

5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.

7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

10 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.

The passage goes on to describe the return of the the remnant of Israel from all the places to which it was scattered and the turning of its enemies to peace and to worship of Israel's God. However, for Christians, as a graft onto the house of Israel, this passage is a first hint of the kingdom that is to come. Here e find an invocation of the Holy Spirit, an affirmation of the return of justice to the world, a return of creation to its primitive peace with the Creator and the turning of the nations, the non-Jews, to the God of Israel. All this will be brought about by a Messiah, symbolized by the branch of Jesse, by Jesus as a descendant of David, will set the world to rights, bring justice and, more importantly, peace to the world. This peace is so profound that even Nature responds to it and stops being red of tooth and claw.

Ultimately, it is this vision of the peaceable kingdom, the great Shalom, which is the object of the invocation of God's might which we talked about yesterday. God's might isn't employed arbitrarily to put us in our place or to make our lives less enjoyable. God's might is designed to bring out this peaceable kingdom through the undermining of the apparent power of evil in the world. The result is this kingdom in which all creation, all humanity is, finally, united in acknowledging the God who created them. No longer will humanity be at war with each other. More importantly, no longer will humanity be at war God or, for that matter, with His creation. Jesus, as the Messiah, the branch of Jesse, promises this kingdom and works even now, through us, to achieve it. This is nothing less than our reconciliation and peace with God and, through that reconciliation, our salvation from our own delusions of power. We all know where those delusions lead: relationships broken by our need to exert our power, the wars which we fight to exert the power we don't have, the rape of creation of which we are supposed to be stewards, to the manifold sorrows and suffering of a broken world and, ultimately, to death. Our individual and communal delusions are destroying us and only a return to God will save us

Jesus, that root of Jesse, offers us that salvation. He seeks to return humanity and creation itself back to the state of peace which it enjoyed before humanity deluded itself into thinking it knew better than God. Jesus, through becoming human, confronts those delusions and shows us how to break the power they have over us. Jesus promises a world in which peace returns and we are returned to the role that God intended for us- a role which we will find, ultimately, more free than the world we created for ourselves. We see this even now in those grace-filled moments in which the kingdom seen by Isaiah comes, albeit briefly, into sight. When we work for justice, when we confront injustice, when we seek to reconcile with our enemies, when we avoid the easy, violent fix, Jesus, the root of Jesse, is working within and through us. This is how we proceed on the road to the kingdom alluded to in this antiphon; a road which leads not to destruction, but to life.

Veni, O Iesse virgula,
ex hostis tuos ungula,de spectu
tuos tartari educ et antro barathri.

O Come, Thou Rod of Jesse's stem,
from ev'ry foe deliver them
that trust Thy mighty power to save,
and give them vict'ry o'er the grave.


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