O Root of Jesse

The O Antiphons are a series of chants traditionally used across the final seven days of Advent. Each one is based on a particular characteristic of Jesus; the chant for 19th December is called O Radix Jesse, or O Root of Jesse; you can hear it sung below.

Professional Cockney geezer Danny Dyer looks confused and unbelieving. You can understand why; This star of EastEnders, this working class bloke from Camden Town, is listening to a historian telling him that he’s a direct descendent of Edward III. “It’s ridiculous,” says Danny, before considering buying a ruff.

That’s the thing about family trees. They’re full of surprises. Matthew starts his gospel with a genealogy of Jesus, and it’s easy to skip across this interminable list of names, just picking out the impressive ones – King David, or maybe Solomon. But wait; look at who else Matthew has tucked into that list. This is a family tree that comes with trigger warnings. There’s Tamar, widowed and rejected, forced to take her destiny into her own hands by exposing the hypocrisy of her father-in-law. Here’s Rahab, the sex worker who is also a model of bravery and mercy, considered a hero of faith by the writers of the New Testament. There’s Ruth, the migrant, the outsider who becomes an insider, determined to save what was left of her family. Bathsheba is here, victim of a king’s lust, her husband cut down because those in power will always take what they desire.

The line of kings is also the line of migrants and survivors of rape and these stories fold into that of Christmas, their blood runs through the veins of Christ, blood spilt at Calvary containing the blood of the abused, the marginalised, the rejected. Is there rejection here? No; there’s mercy, there’s acceptance, there’s grace as God welcomes his messy family home.