“O Flower of Jesse”
Monday, December 19, 2022, 4th Week of Advent
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today:
O Shoot from the dry root of Jesse,
raised up as a sign for all people,
Before you the sovereigns fall silent
And hope gathers nations in prayer.
Come free us! Lord, do not delay!
Resurgence is the theme of this title of Jesus. He is the "shoot," the "sprout" springing out of the dry stump, out of the dormant root, of the house of Jesse, father of King David (see Isaiah 11:10-12). His emergence as the promised Messiah, "Son of David," is sign and proof of unseen vitality within the "remnant of His people." He is the sign of God's power overcoming death and the cause of death: sin.
Christ's victory over sin, and over all the destructive, disintegrating, discouraging consequences of sin, is His glory. And this victory is not a one-time peak of accomplishment; it is repeated over and over. Every time we sin, every time death prevails over life in any way, in individuals or in society, the power of Christ is able to revitalize us. This is the proclamation of our faith.
This is not just God's doing. St. Irenaeus teaches that "the glory of God is life in man." The "spendor of Christ's glory" shines out in the human persons He is able to heal and make whole, to bring to life -- and not just to life, but to the glory of sharing in God's own divine life by grace. Jesus said, "I came that they might have life, and have it to the full!" (John 10:10). And Irenaeus says, "Just as a doctor is judged in his care for the sick, so God is revealed in what He does with men" (Office of Readings for June 28 & December 19). The glory of Jesus the Savior shines out, not just in His own divine goodness, but in His power to save the human race which God created and with whom Jesus identified Himself by His Incarnation.
In today's Opening Prayer we ask for "true faith and love to celebrate the mystery of God made man." The glory of this mystery is in the fact that we are made God -- and not just passivly, as inert objects of salvation. We are able, as human beings, to respond to grace. Jesus doesn't simply dismiss our human natures and replace them. He does something even more glorious: He enables us to respond; He calls our humanity to life.
Centuries of sin and darkness have not been able to frustrate God's creation or deaden us completely to the inbreaking of God's light. Through the long, cold winter of our alienation from God, the fire of our desire for Him has not died out. Just as God always made sure that in spite of fire and sword, exile and slavery, a "remnant" of His People survived (see Isaiah 10:20-22), so something of His creation remains in us able to respond and come back to life at the invitation of His word, by the power of His grace. And Jesus, the "Shoot of Jesse," sprout and sign of life from dormant root and dried-out stump, is the sign raised up to gather the nations together in hope.
Jesus is the sign that God can call us out of the tomb, give spirit to dry bones, make the desert bloom and dried-up stumps sprout with new life. No matter how helpless we find ourselves against temptation, no matter how long we have been dead to faith, to hope, to love, He can restore us and make our hearts alive. We never have to say we have lost the fervor to be generous or write ourselves off as incurably mediocre. We never have to reconcile ourselves to a life or a religion without love, without joy. Jesus as the "Shoot of Jesse" is a promise of new life.
He is also the divine approval of growth. A shoot is a growing thing, not "perfect" in the sense of a finished product. As "Shoot of Jesse" Jesus validates the present of our lives as an intermediary moment between what we were and what we are called to be. He encourages us to accept ourselves as we are even while we pray insistently to be delivered from everything that holds us back. And so we pray, "O Shoot of Jesse, come free us! Lord, do not delay!"
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry