community-helping-handsO Root of Jesse, 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.

There is a line that is often attributed to St. Augustine and that others, like St. Bonaventure, later appropriated and paraphrased. It reflects the intimacy and immanence of God: “God is closer to you than you are to yourself.” This year, while reflecting on today’s O Antiphon, O Root of Jesse, I thought of this line because of the way in which the coming of God as emmanuel is anticipated here as coming from within. It is not an utterly transcendent God that comes from outside, as if beaming down from outer space, but a God who comes from within the family of the People of Israel, from within the limitations of human form, from within the time and space of our existence in creation.

This is partly what is conveyed in the reference to the messiah’s coming from the lineage of King David’s father, Jesse. Jesus arrives as a member of that family tree (hence the importance of the ‘boring’ genealogies in Matthew and Luke) and it should indeed give us pause about how we view our families and the importance of that connection with our past, present, and future lineage. Like all of humanity, God enters our world as part of a particular line of human persons with their own diverse histories, blessings, and sinful pasts. God knows a thing or two about what it’s like to be part of a family.

Yet, it is not just those who follow in the line of David that can appreciate that Jesus was born in that line, for the broader human family is what we celebrate on Christmas. Because God enters the world as one like us, it was necessary for there to be a particular family line into which Christ would be born, but it is the fact that God becomes human and, therefore, part of the human family that is so much more significant than any particular clan to which the infant Jesus would be associated.

In light of this familial dimension to the Incarnation and the coming of Christ, I wonder how we might understand the last line of the antiphon: “let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.” Superficially, it almost appears as though we are praying that God doesn’t get stuck in traffic or become distracted by something else or disinterested for some reason. Yet, there is a profound implication that this line bears when we put the whole familial observation in perspective.

Christ continues to come into our world today in many and varied ways, albeit not in quite the same way as that day in Bethlehem. The way that Christ comes into our world to aid us, however, is through the other members of the body of Christ. As Teresa of Avila so brilliantly said:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

God is only ever prevented from coming to the aid of humankind by the inaction or disinterest of other human persons. This antiphon reminds us of our familial bond to God in Christ through the Incarnation, but it should also remind us of our role in salvation history to care for one another as Jesus cared for those he encountered during his earthly lifetime.

When we pray for the Root of Jesse to come, we are praying that the Spirit of God take root in our heart so that we can be instruments of God’s peace in this world, allowing God to indeed come to the aid of our brothers and sisters. But it only happens through us. It only happens from the God who comes from within: within human history and within our hearts.

Photo: Stock


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