O Come - Shoot, Root, Rod, Rood, Radish whatever...
O come, O Rod of Jesse, free
Your own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell your people save,
And give the victory o'er the grave.
Latin 13th century translated by John M Neale (1818-1866)
English is a funny old language. I'm not stupid, I know my Bible and I've got a good working knowledge of the origins and derivations of words in English, yet every time I sing this verse of this advent hymn I have a picture of Jesus laying about him with a big stick, beating the Devil and his demons with this "rod of Jesse".
Of course thats not the intended image. The original Latin of this verse goes:
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
The modern English word "radish" is derived from the Latin "radix" but it is not this specific usage referred to here (the image of Christ as a small purplish vegetable is no more helpful than that of him as a headmaster's cane!) but rather the general translation as "root"... As Maggi Dawn translates this verse:
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;Medieval genealogy, and in many ways the way we lay out "family trees" today, is at odds with the way we talk about our ancestry. We talk about our roots as our predecessors, yet when we draw them out on a family tree our "roots" are at the top of the page... Whereas our shoots (for those of us blessed with children) are lower down the page... When I was doing a family tree recently I discovered that there weren't as many roots in my family as I thought... and that they were somewhat tangled... That could explain a lot, says you...
before you kings will keep silence,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come, deliver us, and do not delay.
But in both physical trees and the family variety, both the branches and the roots contribute to the well-being of the plant... Drawing in and creating the nutrients to keep it alive.
Today's Antiphon, emphasises Jesus' rootedness in a specific Jewish family, with royalty running through it's DNA... However, in the days since David it had been seriously pruned back in terms of its power and influence. So much so that Jesus' earthly father may have been descended from David, but he was a working man in a Galilean backwater.
Maggi Dawn reminds us that you should prune roses as if they belonged to your enemy. Cut them back as drastically as you like, they will always re-grow. Indeed the late great Geoff Hamilton of Gardener's World suggested, just go at them with a set of electric shears down to about 2 inches from the ground. That's my sort of pruning. And its the sort of pruning that Isaiah must have had in mind when he wrote:
“A shoot shall come from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his root”.
(Isaiah 11:1)When the affairs of the house of Jesse seemed at their lowest ebb... that is when God used them for his purposes again. Not as kings or rulers in the worlds way of looking at things but in a way that would change the world forever.
And that's worth thinking about when we, the shoots that have subsequently sprung from (or been grafted into) Jesse's stump (See John 15:1-6 and Romans 11:11-23) feel that we have been pruned back more than we can bear...
Just wait for the spring...