Thursday, December 19

O Come, O Come Emmanuel [9th century Latin]

O come, thou root of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan's tyranny
From depths of Hell Thy people save
And give them victory o'er the grave
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, o Israel

For years I have been engaged in the hobby of family genealogy tracing back my ancestors to Europe with the help of a family tree.  The phrase "root of Jesse" simply points to an ancestral tree by which one’s many ancestors can be traced.  In the case of Jesus, the Bible connects Jesus with the lineage of Jesse who was king David's father.  This verse of the hymn is an imperative for God to come as the much-longed-for Messiah.  Isaiah's poetry suggested that the Messiah would come from the tree of Jesse.

Isa. 11:10 [NRSV]   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.

I've been mulling over the image of "tree" or "stump" lately.  The Hebrew which is rendered "root" is a word that points to stumps that send out new shoots after the tree is cut down.  There is a lot of life in the roots of a plant and that may give us a powerful metaphor for our discipleship.  We need to hold in balance our call to go out and do things for God with the equally essential task of attending to the roots of our faith through the spiritual disciplines.  Neither a life of prayer, nor a life of activism is the path — what we are needing is a life of service which grows from a life deeply connected to the place of God abiding within.

Jesus teaches us this with a slightly different (but still plant-based) metaphor (John 15:4-11 NRSV):
"Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.   I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.  Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.   If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.   My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.   As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.   If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.   I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete."

Daily Collect
 Lord, you are the tap-root from which everything worth having and doing grows.  Help us to grow deep in our love of you and in our trust that you are benevolently inclined toward us.  Then give us a vision and courage to live into it which cooperates with your on-going work of reconciliation and redemption for the world.  In the name of the One who gives us liberation from hellish life and victory over the grave.  Amen.

Paul Lang