[Note: This is posted from the road, using the rather hinky hotel in-room wireless access. (The story behind the being in a hotel room is another family holiday nightmare, but that will wait for another telling.) This post, however, is completed on time as promised.]
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,
who stand as a sign for the people,
kings stand silent in your presence,
whom the nations will worship:
come to set us free,
put it off no longer.
This is rendered in the well-known Protestant hymn:
O come, O Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!
Ours is an age which, comparatively, is upside down and backwards. Instead of a fall from a golden age, ours is an ever-upward progression to a golden age. Instead of the advancement of the self in the service to the polis, we now seek self-advancement from the polis. In the polis, then, is our own individual salvation into a golden age that is ever yet on the horizon.
We have it on divine authority, however, that the ancient world’s view of reality as a fall from a previous golden age is the more correct—though in itself, it, too, suffers from some deficiencies. We are not progressing ever-upward toward a increasingly bright golden age. We are devolving ever more deeply into the dark abyss of the evils of human sinfulness and its cosmic consequences. Our technologies bring us not greater depth of character, but an ever-increasing mechanistic dehumanization in which the rapid decaying of the body—set in motion by our own personal advents into this fallen world—is shored up by the cutting and augmenting of the flesh. The human person is ever and increasingly commodified, with occasional head tilts to marketable and manipulable emotion and sentiment. But for all intents and purposes, ours is a monistic view of human salvation in which the physical body is saved from dys-ease through leisure and surfeit. We are increasingly moving ever upward to the ability to fully calculate every aspect of the physical body. This is the coming golden age for us, where near-perfect but empty husks fine-tune the calculus of self-pleasure.
In our midst, however, is a sign for a different golden age. Not the golden age from which we’ve fallen, and which we can never again restore to ourselves. Not the golden age so far distant from our memories that it cannot but seem an idle dream as the phantasmagoric nightmare we endlessly create and augment descends incrementally upon us. No, this is a golden age given to us by sheer grace. And it’s sign is the fullness of the nightmare we are bringing upon ourselves. Its sign, is, to advance in the festal order from the Nativity and “Little Lent” to Great Lent and Holy Week, that of the shredded gory bulk of a man hung from the blood-soaked tree while the darkness coalesces and descends, and one of us, ignorant of the import of his announcement, speaks the rain-spattered gospel: Truly, this was the Son of God.
What is this sign, this signum, this root of Jesse? It is the restoration, or, perhaps more accurately, the consummate fulfillment of the prelapsarian world, wherein the wolf and the lamb, the leopard and the kid, the lion and the calf dwell in peace together; the bear and the cow graze together, the lion eats grass with the ox; and the nursling plays over the cobra’s hole, the weaned child shoves his hand in the adder’s den. It is the fulfillment of the images of Isaiah 11 in Mark’s longer ending, wherein poisonous snakes have no effect upon believers.
But there are, in fact, two trajectories here. We are not simply stumbling in our sin-drunkenness inch by inch into hell, we are too visited by this consummation of the Kingdom. The two paths, one from a golden age, the other to a golden age invade the same space. Indeed, the herbivorous predators already graze near the ravenous killers. The one is set to die, the other already lives for ever.
We live, then, here, in the between and betwixt, in a world sliding down into the abyss, into which has broken a new nation for whom the consummate fulfillment of all our origins has begun. We are dying, and yet in dying are finally becoming alive. We inhabit bodies which mortality has bound, but some of which grace keeps incorrupt. We eat bread and drink wine that left to itself will molder and decay, becoming poisonous, but which, by being invaded by the coming golden age of grace now brings not merely nutrition and sustenance, but healing and, indeed, immortality.
This is the sign of Jesse: the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily in a man, who bestows upon all his brothers and sisters, the participation, in him alone, in that divinity. This is our golden age: becoming gods by grace.
Sign of Jesse, free us from the sin-besotted death we ingest daily. Free us and all your creation from this mortality, and the sin which is its coin.