by Gill Newton.
“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.” Isaiah 11 v 10
“Researching my family tree” is on my “bucket list”. It has always interested me, but I’ve never quite yet found the time! In preparation though, I’ve sat down with Mum and encouraged her to tell me all she knows about our family tree. Thankfully her knowledge is quite detailed and far reaching, so I’ll be off to a good start when I eventually find the time!
Genealogy is increasingly popular as evidenced by online resources to aid our research. Then, there are the television programmes like “Who Do You Think You Are?” helping celebrities discover their roots, and others to find long lost family members. Perhaps part of this interest is because families less often live in close-knit communities now. Vital connections have been lost; but people still need to understand where they come from.
Of course, what’s discovered may be a source of great pride and excitement or sometimes of fear or embarrassment as the dreaded “skeletons in the cupboard” are revealed. Nevertheless, an understanding of where our roots lie remains really important to many of us.
It’s possibly why we have those seemingly boring genealogies in various parts of scripture! It was important to Matthew, at the start of his gospel, to explain the family tree of which Jesus is a part – “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.”[i]
Recently, I attended a District Resourcing Day for Local Preachers and Worship Leaders, wonderfully led by our President of Conference, Revd. Micky Youngson. We were encouraged to reflect on the Advent antiphons and I was drawn to “O Radix Jesse (Root of Jesse).”
Through this antiphon we can sense that the coming of God is anticipated from within. Jesus will be at the heart of the family line of the house of David. This is not God parachuting in from an unknown sphere, but God emerging from within the Israelite family. This is God knowing the limitations of our human frame and understanding our place in the created order.
So, just like us God enters the world as part of a family line – with its own stories of joy and disappointment, with its own skeletons in the cupboard! We can be confident that God knows just how important it is for our sense of identity and security to know where our roots lie.
Often, those television programmes conclude with joyous stories of reunions and restored relationships, of people having a deeper appreciation of who they are and a better understanding of what makes them that way. Surely this reminds us of the importance of treating well those in our communities who feel they have no identity, no home and no sense of belonging anywhere.
Every family tree, despite its black sheep and “skeletons in cupboards” can produce unexpected fruit. Every individual search for information about our ancestors is an opportunity to acknowledge the faithfulness of God to our family over the years. That’s because our family trees, whatever they reveal, shape us, and God plays a huge part in all of that. The story of the family of David, is the story of the human race, because “Jesus isn’t just one of the branches of this family tree, he is a continuation of the trunk.”[ii] Being described as the root of Jesse means that he is both a product of the family line, but also the source of it, the one from whom all life emerges.
So, as we enter this Advent season, in a world so desperately in need of light, this antiphon reminds us of the family dimension to the incarnation. Christ came as part of a human family, the line of David, a family to which we’re all connected and in which we all have a part to play.
The antiphon reminds us of our family bond to God in Christ and therefore of our call to care for one another, especially those who need it most. God comes to the help of the whole world but we are the carriers of that aid. The bringing of Advent hope will happen because of the God who comes from within: within our human family and within our hearts.
[i] Matthew 1 v 1
[ii] Quote from “The Art of Advent” by Jane Williams