O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
WALKING THROUGH the Great Os this year, a pattern I’m seeing is (1) opening prayer, (2) God responding, then 2 parts describing exactly who and how this response is coming – invoking Jesse & David (Father and Son). So we’re at Jesse – the root of Jesse. It’s logical, knowing biology, to think of root as meaning the start of a tree. In fact in the present usage it is metaphorical and Jesse, himself, is root that we’re talking about. Jesus arrises from Jesse: but Jesse’s “root” goes all the way back to Adam. We are all descended from our common parents, one family, one people.
I’ve read Catholic and Orthodox writers who are biblical literalists, who think the Earth can only be about 6,000 years old and that humans have only been around for about the same amount of time. I’ve read others who simply graft Genesis onto a copy of Darwin’s work and shrug their shoulders at “mystery”. However, my first exposure to actually Catholic teaching on the subject came from a Dominican whose lecture on the topic explained that literalism (and Young Earth things) are right out. But we must accept that all humans are descended from the same two parents. So I struggled with this for a while.
Then, listening to Fr John Nepil on the Catholic Stuff podcast (back in February), I found a way to wrap the two concepts together – both evolution and two parents. Fr John suggested that as primates evolved, God picked two and gave them something: Father suggested it was the gift of speech/language. These two continued their evolutionary journey as animals, as bipeds, as mammals, as primates, and now as humans. Fr John discusses the possibility of this human family marrying others, teaching them speech, interbreeding, this all makes perfect sense. You don’t need 2 humans to be the physical genetic source of humanity – only the intellectual and spiritual teachers of what became humanity. The intent was something else, but things fall apart, and so now we continue our evolutionary journey as animals, as bipeds, as mammals, as primates, and now as fallen humans.
I like the symmetry of this pious theological opinion: it includes all the things the Church says we need and excludes all the nutters who want to deny things like millennia of evolution, Pangaea, and a round earth. It accounts for a lot of things that make no sense as merely physical phenomena like the fact that Original Sin is clearly evident to anyone – even someone who is an atheist and rejects the idea of “sin”. Things fall apart: it’s scientific.
And that’s why we need a reset.
St Paul says, “Since by man came death by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (1 Cor 15:21-22). We did this and it is fitting that one of us undoes this. Yet this is a curious mystery: A Son of Adam must undo Adam’s Fall, but Adam’s Fall prevents any Son of Adam from being able to undo it. So we need to root of Jesse: a Son of Adam who is also the Son of Promise.
As in Adam all fall, even so in Christ are all started over again.
Christmas is the Beginning of Something New and the passing away of something old: For in Christ, the Son of Adam, the Son of Promise, is also the Son of God and God Himself. The solution to the Mystery of the Fall is a newer and greater Mystery: the Incarnation. As we learned last time, this is Adonai himself. The world becomes silent, then, for two reasons: that we should all fall down in prayer before God Himself makes sense. But now all the kings of the earth fall silent before the son of a sheep farmer and – in the person of Jesus – a carpenter. I’ve heard several times (but I don’t know if it’s true) that shepherds like King David were considered unclean. I assume they smelled like their sheep, either way. I’ve also heard that in Roman times men who worked with their hands such as carpenters were also considered lower class even if they had successful businesses. Again, I don’t know that this is true, but it says a lot about the God we worship: that he would pick the lower class to become a King and then would come among us himself as the lower class son of that same King.
Jesus, the Carpenter Son of the Shepherd, the smelly and sweaty lower class God of all heaven and earth, has reset everything by making the sons and daughters of our fallen first parents what we could not become otherwise.
And let us see how the world is overthrown.
Great O Antiphons, Advent 2020
– O Sapientia (11/15)
– O Adonai (11/20)
– O Radix Jesse (11/25)
– O Clavis David (11/30)
– O Oriens (12/5)
– O Rex Gentium (12/10)
– O Emmanuel (12/15)
– O Virgo Virginum (12/20)
This wiki article explains the Great O Antiphons and also why I have eight in my practice rather than seven.