O Root of Jesse: Reflections as We Journey to Bethlehem

«Like a shattered and smoldering stump, Judah’s kingly line seems nothing but an object of scorn, and yet if you know anything about burned tree stumps, you know it is rarely the end of the story»

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Through December 23, Ascension Press is presenting “What’s in a Name? The O Antiphons with Thomas Smith.»

The «10-minute studies» (they are intended to take no more than 10 minutes of a reader’s time) are free at http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/category/free-studies/o-antiphons/

A recording and translation of each of the O Antiphons, chanted by the Dominican student brothers at Blackfriars, Oxford, can be found at this link: http://godzdogz.op.org/search/label/%22O%20Antiphons%22

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(This can also be sung to the melody “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”)

O come, Thou Root of Jesse’s stem,
From every foe deliver them
That trust Thy mighty power to save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.

Rejoice, Rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel!


United to our first two titles of the Messiah, we return to Isaiah 11 and the prophecy concerning the Root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1-5). Jesse was the father of King David, and the root of Jesse speaks of the continuity of the Davidic Kingdom. When Isaiah declared these words, times were bleak. The Davidic throne was in peril. Soon the city of Jerusalem and its temple would be leveled and burned to the ground. Judah’s last king would witness the public execution of his sons, be blinded by his Babylonian conquerers, and led into exile with his shamed and shaken subjects (2 Kings 25:7). Like a shattered and smoldering stump, Judah’s kingly line seems nothing but an object of scorn, and yet if you know anything about burned tree stumps, you know it is rarely the end of the story. Deep within the soil of God’s ancient promises (2 Samuel 7), the roots remain and soon shoots emerge from the blackened husk of that stump.

When the angel Gabriel appears to Mary and announces that she, a virgin, will bear the Son of the Most High, he adds, “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33). She walked in that promise, the long and difficult road from Nazareth to Bethlehem. This king, as the O Antiphon intones, will come with mighty power to save us from a threat much greater than death. Our mortal enemy is sin. And so, as before, Crib and Cross are united. The King is born to save, to deliver, to give victory. Born to die, his offering on Calvary was the only way to rob death and sin of their grip on our globe (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).


In the Old Testament, when someone had been delivered from death, disease or destruction they offered the Lord a Thanksgiving offering and sang a psalm. Eucharist literally means “thanksgiving” and in it, we celebrate the ultimate deliverance from our greatest enemies: sin and death. This truth causes our mouths to be filled with praise, and because of it we sing for glory! Pray aloud today’s responsorial Psalm (Psalm 71), in light of God’s saving work on our behalf, and share this good news with at least one other person today.


Let us rest in the our mighty Root of Jesse today. Let us rest in the promises of God, which are sure and faithful, no matter how a situation may appear. Invite God’s life-giving root to enter and give life to a difficult situation in your life today.

Reprinted with permission of Ascension Press. 


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Thomas Smith is the co-author of Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come and an international presenter for The Great Adventure Bible Timeline. Bringing a wealth of experience and insight on the Word of God to audiences across the U.S., Thomas is a repeat guest on EWTN and Catholic radio as well as a sought after parish mission and conference speaker. Thomas Smith has taught as an adjunct professor at the St. Francis School of Theology in Denver, and is the former Director of the Denver Catholic Biblical School and the Denver Catechetical School. He lives on his family ranch in southeastern Idaho and writes for his website www.gen215.org.

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