O Root of Jesse
by Pastor William Cwirla
qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos,
jam noli tardareO Root of Jesse,
standing as an ensign before the peoples,
before whom all kings are mute,
to whom the nations will do homage;
Come quickly to deliver us.
Tonight is the third of the “golden nights” of Advent on which the
church sings her longing cry to Jesus to come and deliver her.
Tonight’s “O Antiphon” is the Root of Jesse, the promised shoot from
the stump of King David’s family tree that sprouted in the fulness of
time in the womb of the Virgin.
“In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples;
the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be
glorious.” Leave it to the Lord to make an homely root His banner at
which all kings will be silent and all nations will bow. Roots are
best left unseen, underground, invisibly drawing up nutrients from the
soil, feeding the branches which produce leaves and fruit. Expose the
root and the whole tree dies. But cut down the tree even to a stump
and it will return, so long as the root is alive.
The Root of Jesse is God’s Promise that David’s throne would stand
forever, that a son of David would establish his kingdom and sit on his
throne. That promise is the root of Israel’s existence. Even when the
tree was cut down, when Israel was reduced to a lifeless stump by her
Babylonian captors, the Promise lived in the Root. “Then shall come
forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of
I think about that image at this time of year when chopped down trees
are a commodity. We picked out the tree for the church and for our
living room this past week from a parking lot. Row after row of trees,
cut down by the chain saw of Christmas commerce, leaving a lifeless
stump in the ground somewhere. Those of you who have cut down trees
know what happens to those stumps. They sprout. It’s hard to stop
it. You have to kill the root, and when the root is the promise and
love of God in His Son, you simply can’t kill it. It always sprouts to
Just when King David’s family tree seemed as good as dead, reduced to a
stump with Israel carted like a Christmas tree to adorn Babylon’s
living room, the promise of God sprouted in Israelite soil, in the
obscurity of Nazareth with the word of the angel to the Virgin, “You
will conceive and bear a son, and you will call His name Jesus. He
will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the
Lord god will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He shall
riegn over the hosue of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there will be
no end.” King David greater Son, the promised Son and Successor . The
shoot, the branch, the tree – the King in His kingdom.
Our sin goes all the way to the root. Not only the fruit, but the
whole tree is bad, roots and all. The axe of the Law must be laid to
the root. We must die and rise anew. It’s the only way to save us.
We must be grafted to new rootstock. We must be joined to the stump of
Jesse, fed by the Root of Jesse, nourished by the Promise of God to
God grafted His Root to our sin, nailing it to a cross. The Root of
Jesse became a banner for the world to see. Jesus of Nazareth.
David’s son, David’s Root, David’s Lord. “”I am the root and offspring
of David,” Jesus said in the the last of His I AMs (Rev 22:16). He
was lifted up on the tree of the cross as a banner for the nations to
see. As Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the wilderness to be a
sacrament of healing, so the Root of Jesse was lifted up on the tree to
be the Sacrament of salvation. Here is how God saves from sin and
death. He sets the axe of the Law against His own Root, His Son, and
then joins you to His death. The cross is the meeting place of God and
man, Law and Gospel, wrath and mercy. There the Root absorbs your sin;
there He feeds you His righteousness.
When you make a graft into wood, you need to keep the graft moist. The
life’s sap of the tree must flow into the branches or the graft and the
branch will die. You were grafted to the Root of Jesse in your
Baptism. Don’t let the graft dry out; always keep it immersed in
baptismal water. Draw on His forgiveness, His life, His salvation.
You are living branches grafted to the living Root of Jesse. Jesus is
your Vine and your Root. Apart from Him you can do nothing. Joined
to Him, believing in Him, you bear much fruit.
Wait patiently on this Root of Jesse. He is the source of your life,
who feeds and forgives you, who nourishes and sustains you, and who
will come to raise you.
O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory over the grave.