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Christmas Eve, December 24 - Isaiah 11:1–10

O Root of Jesse, standing as an ensign before the peoples, before whom all kings are mute, to whom the nations will do homage: Come quickly to deliver us.


Who is Jesse? He was mentioned in our opening hymn in the 4th stanza, which is a reference to our chosen Old Testament for tonight. Jesse was the grandson of Boaz and Ruth. Centuries before the shepherds heard the angels this night, he was one of the chief shepherds of the area surrounding Bethlehem. He became the father to eight sons. One of those sons would eventually become the king of Israel, David. And Jesus is of this house and lineage, and yet he is also called the “root” of Jesse.


Tonight we continue with one of Great O Antiphons, which were short little Advent responses used in the church since at least the 8th century. In the 4th stanza we sang of that root, a branch, or a shoot, from the family of Jesse. The hymnwriter draws inspiration from the words of the prophet Isaiah, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (11:1), and “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious” (11:10). The son of Jesse would be the great king David and all his descendent would also be kings.


But the life of David was not always glorious, neither were the lives of the kings that came from David, or even the lives of the people under their rule. All of them were plagued by sin and the evil. Indeed, sin is an abstract thing but it is still real. And there are dire consequences to sin, in this life and the next. The people were stealing from one another. The people were killing one another. They did as they pleased. Where’s the glory in that? In a way, they are no different from us living in the 21st century. We too act and do as we please, neglecting God as our God, and forgetting his commands, which is life for us. Sin still infects us today, the burden of guilt can crush us, and death brings us great fear and despair. In the days of Isaiah, the prophecy of glory and hope seemed empty and unconvincing. And no doubt, when the entire nation was destroyed and deported and their kings, the descendants of Jesse and David, were dethroned and never become kings again, this prophecy seemed dead.


But God is not dead. Jesse’s name was not forgotten. The promises attached to this name was not abandoned. Seven hundred years later, the name of Jesse resurfaces, this time in the writings of Matthew and Luke. Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, has historical roots. Those roots go back to Jesse, even back to Adam. Neither is Jesse’s name to be forgotten in Church letters. Paul’s letter to the mixed congregation of Gentiles and Jews in Rome quotes this same verse (v10) from Isaiah to remind them of their hope as the one people of God (Rm15:12).


Jesse, however, is not the greatest in the family tree of Jesus. His is one name that leads to Jesus. Jesse could not free anyone from tyranny. Jesse could not save anyone from the depths of hell. Jesse could not give even his own family victory over the grave. All his sons, including the famous King David, were not spared from death.


But from the most unusual of sources, God provides deliverance. The long-suffering prophet Job preached the same Gospel message as would Isaiah after him. “For there is hope for a tree, if it be cut down, that it will sprout again, and that its shoots will not cease. Though its root grow old in the earth, and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put out branches like a young plant” (Job14:7–9).


First, a twig or a little rod, then a sapling, and finally the full-grown plant. Behold, a Branch has been growing! From the garden of God, from the bud of Jesse, the Son named Jesus sprouted, when the fullness of time had come, he was born, and became a full-grown man, a plant in which all the birds of the air can nest and find safety.


Jesus has come and brings comfort and peace! Eternal and everlasting peace! He sets us free from Satan, that father of lies, who deceived our first parents. God had cursed this serpent, saying, “Cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field. . . . I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring” (Gen3:14–15). Even the earth receives the curse of the Lord. Because man listened to the lie of Satan, the ground is a perpetual weed bed. Yet, the same Lord God who curses also loves man. He is not willing that even one man perish into Satan’s place. A seed from the woman will come. The seed, or, in Isaiah’s way of describing it, the branch that would rise from a stump called Jesse, will destroy Satan. The branch of Jesse will confront the lie of Satan, the lie that man can live without God, that man needs no God, that man can be his own god doing what he pleases. Jesus comes and pulls out this lie by its roots.


Man is dead in the lies of Satan for he will not believe in a gracious and loving God. The evil one tempts us to violate the Ten Commandments. He teases us with unholy thoughts, orientations, dreams, pictures, and images. And the more we sin, the more we would fear God and his wrath, and run away from him.


But look! Hear! Listen! The angels announce the birth of the savior! He comes to find us lost sheep. Jesus has been born to put an end to death, to its damning consequences. One man’s death, that of the Son of God, is the sacrifice demanded by God for that original and continuing disobedience of Adam and his children. He was born so that he could die and pay for the sins of the whole world. The man who is thus rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus is firmly grounded in the Root of Jesse, the tree of life.


We all have sinned and must all die. But Jesus was born so that he might give life to all. So do not fear or doubt, do not let sin drive and guide your life, but hear these words and find comfort and peace. Let the forgiveness of sins free you. Hear these words of God and rejoice! The Branch of Jesse, Jesus, has come! He has died for you on the cross and forgives you all you sins.