O 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.
The Hebrew Bible, what Christians call the Old Testament, offers several instances that were understood by Christians to be anticipatory when it comes to the Incarnation of the Word, though these passages would not have been understood to have this meaning in their original contexts. Nevertheless, it is one such passage that serves as the foundation for today’s O Antiphon: “A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots…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” (Isaiah 11:1, 10).
After the Resurrection, when the disciples began to look back on their experience of God in Christ Jesus, they began to see the sensus plenior (“fuller meaning”) of scripture passages they knew and had heard proclaimed numerous times. It was evident to them that the Spirit was working in such a way as to illuminate the connection between the expected messiah from the line of Jesse—King David’s father—and the person Jesus of Nazareth. It is this sort of inspired recognition that leads to our antiphonal prayer today.
Today’s Antiphon recognizes that Jesus Christ is the true king, the ruler of creation, whom all should worship and follow. And yet, in our everyday lives we place other kings and queens and rulers in Christ’s stead. We place our trust in human leaders in contrast to the sage advice of the scriptures (Psalm 146:3). We put our hope in money, power, and influence rather than taking the path of servant leadership (Matt 6:24; Luke 16:13). We tend to forget the Holy Spirit’s presence in all of creation, drawing near to us and to our situations, and instead come to believe that we go it alone in this world.
Each of these instances is an example of something that we may put in the way of Christ being the king the scriptures called for, the messiah and anointed one we profess in faith. Our antiphon speaks of a desire for the coming of Christ into our lives, but acknowledges the reality of things getting in the way. And those things are generally objects or circumstances of our making.
It can be difficult to find hope in a world that knows violence and poverty and other forms of injustice all too well. It can be hard to see how Christ is present to us in the Spirit. But as Advent winds down and Christmas draws near, our challenge is precisely this task: to work such that nothing will keep Christ from coming to our aid.
What might we do today to change these circumstances? How might we bow down in worship of the coming messiah in our words, deeds, and thoughts? Can we clear a path in our minds and hearts so that, indeed, nothing will stand in the way of the God who is with us and for us?