Daily Meditations

Nineteenth Day of Christmas Advent: Search the Scriptures (The Katavasias, Part III)

Rod of the Root of Jesse

The fourth ode of the katavasias refers to one of the great prophecies predicting the coming of the Messiah:

There shall come forth a rod from the root of Jesse, and a Bower shall grow out of his root. The Spirit of God shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and godliness. (Is. 11:1-2)

Jesse was the father of the Prophet David, whose line of kingly heirs would eventually be cut off because of their sins (Jer. 22:28-30; 36:30). Nonetheless, God promised David his seed would establish his throne forevermore (2 Kg. [2 Sam.] 7:16; Jer. 33:17).

Therefore, a “rod,” or “shoot,” would arise from the “stem,” or “dead stump,” of Jesse’s family tree. Mary is the root of Jesse, and Christ is the rod, or flower, that would spring forth from it. Hence the importance of the genealogy in Matthew 1:1-16, which is the Gospel reading for the Sunday before Christmas. Christ’s “legal right” to David’s throne is transmitted through Joseph, while His Mother, Mary, is a descendant of Jesse and David through Nathan (a son of David who had not been in the line of kings).

The genealogy of Christ in the beginning of Matthew’s Gospel is therefore of fundamental importance. Yet I often hear people sigh when they hear this Gospel reading in church. Some even suggest leaving out this long list of names. Listen to what St. John Chrysostom had to say about this:

“There are some uncouth people who, whenever they take the Holy Scriptures in their hands and find a list of dates or a catalog of names, skip over them immediately and say to any who rebuke them) “But it’s just names; nothing useful!” What’s that? God is speaking, and you dare to say that there’s nothing useful in what is said? 1

In another homily he says:

As in gold mines one skillful in what relates to them would not endure to overlook even the smallest vein as producing much wealth, so in the holy Scripture it is impossible without loss to pass by one jot or tittle, we must search into all. For they all are uttered by the Holy Spirit, and nothing useless is written in them. 2

The details we find in Scripture—particularly in the Old Testament—such as the lists of names, the detailed instructions for the building of the ark and the temple, the colors and fabrics used for the priests’ vestments—are full of meaning. Indeed, every time we come across a passage in the Scriptures that seems bizarre or needlessly detailed, we should know that it is bizarre or detailed for a reason. It grabs our attention that we may seek its meaning, the depths of which we must plumb. Alas, many of us lack that Klondike spirit.

If we listen attentively to the hymns and readings of Advent, if we read the Old Testament prayerfully and patiently, we will hear the voice of Christ saying: “You search the scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:3 ).

~Vassilios Papavassiliou, Meditations for Advent: Preparing for Christ’s Birth

1 In Illud, Vidi Dominum, hom.2, 2 (PG 56:110).

2 On the Gospel of John, Homily 36, 1. Philip Schaff, ed., Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library), vol. 14, p. 262.