Advent is the season of the vocative. Last Sunday night reminded us of this, a liturgy shaped around the great O antiphons of Advent, and their haunting, beautiful music.
In the eighth century the Church scooped up a number of titles from the Hebrew scriptures, names or attributions for God, and added invocations to the coming Saviour. That’s what our O antiphons are, and one of them, the third, is O Radix Jesse, the Root of Jesse.
Jesse was, of course, David’s father, King David, that is. Hence many churches have Jesse tree windows, depicting the lineage of Jesus from David’s father. The scripture places the Messiah, the coming One of God, in the line of David. Jesus is born in Bethlehem because it is David’s city, and He is of David’s line. He had to be, if He was the true Messiah, the Christ, the Root of Jesse who rises to rule over the nations.
It is this Root of Jesse that John the Baptist is crying for in the wilderness. John is the principal agent of the Radix Jesse. And radix, root, is where our word radical comes from. To be radical is to get back to our roots. And getting back to the roots of faith, the roots of the Gospel, is where John takes us. His message is the most radical that anyone around Jerusalem and Judea had heard for a long time. Repent. You can’t depend on the spiritual credit in the bank. You can’t depend on genealogy. You can’t depend on where you’ve come from, who you are, what you or your ancestors have been. This is about you, and God, and now. The message preached in the Jordanian desert 2000 years ago is as relevant, pertinent, apposite, today, as then. And it applies to you.
For you are called to be crying out in the wilderness of this world’s confusions. Not only as those who give voice to the coming King, but to give voice to those who have no voice, to cry on their behalf. There are ways we do this as a church, and that’s great. In recent years we have given safe space to those who feel that their employers are not being just; made space for parliamentary candidates to be questioned for their policies; provided food and shelter to the homeless, though we know we can do more, and want to; the good work of the Wider Concerns team that focusses hearts and wallets beyond ourselves.
But all of this is just scratching the surface. How can we be radical cry-ers in the heart of the University and City of Cambridge, one of the most beautiful cities of the land, and yet one of the most unequal? Perhaps it’s something to do with finding our roots, and finding our voices, voices that cry for justice, voices that cry, with longing, for One to come and save us. One with a capital ‘O’. It’s time to be vocative. It’s time to get back to our roots.