“O Root of Jesse, Come” (Advent sermon series on the O Antiphons, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)
This is the third in an Advent sermon series on “The Seven Great ‘O’ Antiphons.”
“O Root of Jesse, Come” (Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-13; Matthew 1:1-17)
Today we continue with the third of the seven O Antiphons of Advent, these prayers addressing the coming Christ. This one begins, “O Root of Jesse.” You see it there on the page facing Hymn 357, as well as in your bulletin. Let us now pray this antiphon together: “O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us.”
“O Root of Jesse, Come.” The Scripture on which this antiphon is based is our Old Testament Reading for today, from Isaiah 11. This prophecy, written hundreds of years before Christ, begins by saying, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” And then our text closes, “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.” Notice that this one who is coming is first called “a shoot from the stump of Jesse,” and then he is called “the root of Jesse”–and furthermore, that this coming one who is both shoot and root “shall bear fruit.” And so I think this will be a good way for us to approach this text: Shoot, root, and fruit. Christ as both shoot and root of Jesse, and then the fruit that he will bear. When we understand what this text and this antiphon are saying, we will see that they mean life and vitality for every one of us here.
And so to begin, I suppose we should ask, “Who is this ‘Jesse’ who is mentioned here? What does he have to do with anything?” Jesse is not mentioned a lot in the Bible, but the few times he is, it’s significant. Jesse’s claim to fame is that he is the father of David, the great king of Israel, and so all the kings descended from David likewise come from his line.
And that line of kings, David and Solomon and so on, lasted for about 400 years. But then it was cut off, at least as far as kings actively ruling in Jerusalem. Babylon defeated Judah and carried off the king into exile. Oh, the physical line of descendants continued, but they were no longer reigning as kings. Other powers took over the nation, first Babylon, and then later Persia, Greece, and Rome. And so the royal line of kings was cut off. It was like a tree being cut down. What was left looked like just a dead stump. Another king coming from that dead stump? You’ve got to be kidding! That’s what our text is talking about when it says “the stump of Jesse”: the royal line cut off, cut down, with no prospects for its revival.
A few weeks ago, at our house, we had to have a tree cut down in the back yard. It had been a nice tree, beautiful, but it got a disease and its branches died. So we had to cut it down. Just a stump was left. Now I would be greatly surprised if, a number of years from now, that dead stump could produce a living shoot to come forth and rise up and make a new and beautiful tree again–let alone one even greater and more glorious than the one before. That would be astounding.
But that’s what Isaiah is prophesying with regard to the stump of Jesse. Listen: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.” Out of what looks like a dead stump will come a new and living shoot. Small at first, seemingly insignificant, but it will rise up and become a fruitful tree.
This is a picture of the coming Christ. After close to 600 years of no king, 600 years of foreign domination, 600 years of the line of kings being reduced to a bunch of nobodies, after all that time of seeming deadness, here would come a little, lively shoot, in the form of a baby named Jesus. Springing up barely noticed, this is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
This king will come fully equipped, anointed with the Spirit of God in fullest measure, wisdom and righteousness resting on him in abundance. His rule and his reign will be just and faithful. This Davidic king will always do the right thing.
The Christ, the Messiah, is coming. The shoot from the stump of Jesse, coming when it looks like all hope had been lost long ago. That’s how God works, bringing life out of death. Indeed, that very pattern will mark the reign of this coming king: Life coming out of death, when it looked like all hope was lost. For Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews, will be nailed to a tree, a tree of death. His death would be the death of hope for his crushed disciples. They thought everything was over. But just the opposite: It was only the beginning. Life from out of death. Jesus’ death paid the price for our sins and defeated all our enemies. His death opened the way to life, and after three days in the tomb, victorious life arises. The cross becomes our tree of life.
And so Jesus Christ is the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the restoration and revival of the royal line long dormant. But not only so, not only is he the shoot, he is also the root of Jesse: “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”
What does it mean that Jesus Christ is not just the shoot from Jesse but also the root of Jesse? It means that he is the origin of the whole Davidic line–indeed, of Jesse himself. Jesse and David and Solomon and all the rest have their source and their reason for being in Christ. This is the mystery of the person of Christ, being both true God and true man. He is a descendant of David and David’s Lord, both at the same time. Son of David and Son of God. He is both the origin and the offspring of the line of Jesse. Both root and shoot. The man who died on the cross as the king of the Jews is the eternal Son of God who was in the beginning with the Father. The shoot from the stump is the root of the tree.
And notice, the prophecy says the shoot and the root of “Jesse.” It could have said “David,” but instead it takes it one step back from David, back to Jesse. This is to say that the new king will not just be another descendant of David. It’s saying he will be a whole new David, a new and eternal king, even better than David. A divine “restart,” if you will. So many of the Davidic kings fell short, even David himself. But no mess-ups with this Messiah. This new king will far surpass them all. And so will his kingdom far surpass theirs.
Here is where we can talk about the fruit that this king will bear–good fruit, sweet fruit, coming from this righteous branch. A couple of things we can say here. One is that his will be “the peaceable kingdom.” The other is that it will include the Gentiles. And both of those things mean real life for you and me.
The peaceable kingdom. The vision has enchanted poets and artists for millennia. Wolf and lamb, leopard and goat, calf and lion, lying down together. No more hurting and harming, no more violence and death. Man and beast dwelling in harmony. A return to the Garden, and then some. Paradise restored. This peaceable kingdom is the fruit of what the root of Jesse will bring. Creation itself will be brought back in order. Life will be lived the way it was meant to be. “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.”
Do you know that you will be there? Yes, you! Christ’s peaceable kingdom will include forgiven sinners like you and me! No more sinful nature to lead us astray. No more powers of Satan to oppress us. No more violence or persecution, no more conflict or terror, no more disease or dying. Only life and peace and the knowledge of God, as far as the eye can see.
And this kingdom will include not just Israel but the people of God from every tribe and nation and language and people. “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples–of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.” And in Romans, St. Paul cites this passage from Isaiah specifically to make the point that the coming king is coming for the Gentiles, too: “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” That means all of us! We are those Gentiles whose hope is found in the root of Jesse! And Christ is coming to bring our hope to sight.
“O Root of Jesse, come!” Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy and the answer to our prayer. He is both root and shoot. Christ is the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the shoot springing up from what looked like the dead stump of the Davidic line. Yes, Jesus is the one in whom God brings life out of death. From the tree of the cross and the empty tomb, our living Lord arises to bring us life.
And this shoot from the stump of Jesse is also its root. Christ the Son of God is the origin and source of the line of kings that leads to him. A new and greater David, who brings in an even greater kingdom, the peaceable kingdom of Paradise restored. A kingdom that extends to include the Gentiles. An everlasting kingdom that will include all of us who hope in Christ our Savior. Yes, all this is the fruit coming from the one who is both shoot and root.
“O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us.”