Today’s antiphon, recited on December 19th, is called “O Radix”.
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
Oh root of Jesse, who stands as a sign for the people
over whom kings hold their speech
whom the people entreat earnestly
come to our salvation, for nothing delay.
Now this translation gave me some serious challenges. I went with a fairly literal translation, but as you can tell some of the meaning makes us scratch our heads. It loses some of its prose and poetic powers when one goes for literal translations. Just think of which Bible versions are easier to read. The message or NLT are undoubtedly easier to read than an NASB or interlinear would be. So let’s try to come up with a more balanced translation. I would probably translate it as something like this:
Root of Jesse, Who stands as a sign for the people,
at Whom kings shall shut their mouths,
unto Whom the Gentiles shall pray:
Come and deliver us, and do not tarry
As we all know Christ came from the lineage of David, who was from Jesse’s lineage. Christ is often referred to as coming from the branch of Jesse. We even have a very well known Christmas hymn, “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming” by Michael Praetorius, celebrating this same lineage. The video below is a YouTube posted recording of the German version. I just feel it gives even a more Christmas-like feel and Michael Praetorius most likely wrote in German and Latin.
So now to the Scripture references for this particular antiphon.
The “root of Jesse” was obviously a reference to Isaiah 11:1. Only 9 verses later, in Isaiah 11:10, we read the reference of Christ standing as a signal for the people. In the same writings of Isaiah we are taught that Kings will fall silent before him (Isa 52:15).
The last sentence however can have many references. Paul frequently ends his letters with “Maranatha” or “Come Lord Jesus, come”. For Old Testamental reference, I believe the original composer of the O Antiphon may have turned to Habakuk. As the prophet cries out to God “How long must we suffer”, the divine answer is given that “It will certainly come, it will not delay” (Hab 2:3).
As we wait for the birth of Christ, we long for His coming and we can learn from Habakuk that “It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come. It will not delay” (Hab 2:3, ESV).
I think we can learn something significant from this O Antiphon and from the prophet. In this busy time we can get so absorbed with all the hub-bub of the preparations for visitors, meals, buying gifts and making sure that all the decorations are “just right”. We then start counting the days and long for Christmas to arrive. So much so, we tend to forget the advent season and hurry through it. Bernard of Clervaux even warned us of this when he wrote that “During those days you may see them preparing splendid clothes and special foods with utmost care—as if Christ at his birth would be seeking these and other such things and would be more worthily welcomed where they are more elaborately offered!”1
As we approach Christmas and have 5 days left, we should take the time to slow down, reflect on our sinful nature and need for a Savior, and remember that Christ is that beacon for the nations. After all, no matter how much we have to do or how busy we make ourselves to be this week, He will not tarry ! And remember… it takes a long while for a Rose to grow out of a root. But it cannot be stopped.
Ackowledgements and for more information:
Fr, William Saunders, What are the “O Antiphons”
Catholic Culture: The O Antiphons
The Crossroads Initiative: The great “O Antiphons of Advent”
Image courtesy of Catholic Culture
1Bernard of Clairvaux, Sermon Three: “On the Seven Pillars,” paragraph 2, in Sermons, 20-21