The seven Great ‘O’ Antiphons of Advent are sung before the Magnificat at Vespers during the seven days prior to Christmas. They are seven words or phrases, mostly in Latin, which look forward to the coming of the Messiah. They have been prayed by the Church since, at least, the 8th century. Today Bishop Earl Boyea reflects upon the third “O” Antiphon: O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse). Here is what he says:
The third antiphon (December 19th) reads thus: “O Flower of Jesse’s stem, 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.”
We return to the eleventh chapter of Isaiah. He had hoped that the kings of Judah would prove to be worthy successors to King David, the son of Jesse, but they were not. Isaiah could foresee, as a result, that Jerusalem was endangered by their neglect of God’s ways. So, he predicted: “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom…. On that day, the root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the peoples—him the nations shall seek out” (Isaiah 11:1, 10).
This Messiah is not only the Lord of creation and a new Moses as we have seen in the previous two antiphons, but now is also seen as the true descendent of the Davidic kingship. What is most fascinating is that Isaiah saw that this new king would also bring together the nations. This Messiah would be a light for all peoples. Just at the time when Isaiah saw his own small country seemingly falling apart, he anticipated God’s gift, from David’s line, which would bring salvation to all.
Yet, it would be of David’s line. The Prophet Micah would even declare that this ruler would come from David’s city, Bethlehem: “from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old from ancient times” (Micah 5:1). This is how God works. He comes in a particular place and time, but his grace is never limited by that place and time. God reaches beyond those boundaries.
Sisters and brothers, as we reflect upon that birth in Bethlehem, we recall that magi, representatives of the nations, came to adore. That is the Messiah we also seek. He is not just our Messiah. He is meant for all creation and all creatures. Our task is to help that same light shine forth for all to see.
* First Broadcast December 2020.