Tuesday 19 December 2023

O Radix Jesse

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
(cf Isaiah 11.10, 45.14, 52.15; Romans 15.12)

Arvo Pärt. Seiben Magnificat-Antiphonen (1988 / 1991). Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, dir. Tönu Kaljuste.
3. "O Sproß aus Isais Wurzel, gesetzt zum Zeichen für die Völker, vor dir verstummen die Herrscher der Erde, dich flehen an die Völker: o komm und errette uns, erhebe dich, säume nicht länger."


Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448–94). Annunciation of the Angel to Zechariah, by (1490), Tornabuoni Chapel, Florence (detail). Click here to see the full painting.

Judges 13:2-7, 24-25

2 There was a certain man of Zorah, of the tribe of the Danites, whose name was Manoah. His wife was barren, having borne no children. And the angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, ‘Although you are barren, having borne no children, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now be careful not to drink wine or strong drink, or to eat anything unclean,for you shall conceive and bear a son. No razor is to come on his head, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth. It is he who shall begin to deliver Israel from the hand of the Philistines.’ Then the woman came and told her husband, ‘A man of God came to me, and his appearance was like that of an angel of God, most awe-inspiring; I did not ask him where he came from, and he did not tell me his name;but he said to me, “You shall conceive and bear a son. So then drink no wine or strong drink, and eat nothing unclean, for the boy shall be a nazirite to God from birth to the day of his death.”’

24 The woman bore a son, and named him Samson. The boy grew, and the Lord blessed him.The spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.

Psalm 71.17-22

17 O God, you have taught me from my youth upward:
   and to this day, I proclaim your marvellous works.
18 Forsake me not, O God, in my old age, when I am grey-headed:
   till I have shown the strength of your arm to future generations, and your might to those that come after.
19 Your righteousness, O God, reaches to the heavens:
   great are the things that you have done; O God, who is like you?
20 You have burdened me with many and bitter troubles, O turn and renew me:
   and raise me up again from the depths of the earth.
Bless me beyond my former greatness:
   O turn to me again, and comfort me.
22 Then will I praise you upon the lute for your faithfulness, O my God:
   and sing your praises to the harp, O Holy One of Israel.

Luke 1:5-25

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty,he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. 11Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him.But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John.You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth,for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news.But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’

Meanwhile, the people were waiting for Zechariah, and wondered at his delay in the sanctuary. When he did come out, he could not speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the sanctuary. He kept motioning to them and remained unable to speak. When his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said,‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’

Zechariah, by John Piper

The priests and merchants in the hills,
And girls and women at the mills,
Had smiled at old man Zach as long
As many could recall. “The song!”
They'd shout, when he returned to them
From duty in Jerusalem,
“The song!” For twenty years they'd sung
The song, and put it on the tongue
Of children when they told the tale
Of how the “Desert John” was born.
That's what they called his son.

The corn
Would crush between the wheels
As women worked to make the meals
For half a dozen priests from old
Abijah's clan. Then they'd be told,
“The clan is back! And old man Zach
Is coming up the hill!” With pack
And staff and ninety years of life,
—Or more, some said—he'd climb.

His wife
Had met him on the ridge until
She died. Most say she'd taken ill
Because the desert took her boy.
She groaned for days and cried, “Destroy
Your snakes and vipers, wilderness,
But not my son!” The boy was less
Than twelve the first time he had not
Returned. And then before he'd got
A beard upon his face he ceased
To come at all. And facing east
Upon her simple mat she died.
But not the old man Zach. He'd cried
For her and John, but then he took
His staff and pack and sacred book.
And kept his yearly vigil for
Another fifteen years. “Adore
The God who gives and God who takes,”
He used to say. “The Sovereign makes
No large or small mistakes.”

When he
And other hill-born priests would be
A furlong from the village mill,
The shout would rise, “He's on the hill!”
And girls would leave their grinding stones.
“The song! The song!” they'd shout. The tones
Were struck and all would sing—just four
Short lines for old man Zach, no more:

“A barren womb has given birth,
A desert boy from desert sprung.
Who can foresee the baby's worth,
The boy who made his father young?”

And it was true: the boy had made
His father young. Old Zach had prayed
That God would let him see the day
When John would lift his voice and say,
“Prepare! Prepare the way of God!”
Now thirty years gone by, he trod
This one last time the village hill,
And at the setting of the sun lay still
With fever in his face.

The men
Kept vigil through the night, and when
His breath was almost gone, he said,
“John, John.” An old friend stroked his head.
For all they knew the boy'd been dead
For fifteen years. The sky turned red
Along the eastern ridge. His breath
Would pause, and then, evading death,
Return, each time more soft. And then,
Against the blood-red sky, the men
Saw silhouetted like a black
And brawny desert priest, with pack
And staff and sacred book, the frame
Of John. They knew it, for he came
Straight to the simple shelter where
He'd lived for half his life. And there,
Without a word to those who sat
Spellbound, he knelt beside the mat.
And as he bent, his long black hair
Fell 'round their face like answered prayer,
And made a holy tent. He kissed
His father's eyes with glazen mist,
The first flesh he had touched for ten
Long, lonely years plus five. And then
He put his lips beside the old
Man's waiting ear and said, “Behold,
A voice that in the desert cries,
'Prepare the way of God!'“ The eyes
Of Zechariah twitched. His hand
Rose as if drawn from heaven, the grand
Gesture of a grateful priest.
And as the glory of the east
Began to shine, his arm fell ‘round
John's neck, then softly to the ground.

O God, our arms and hope are weak:
He has been gone so long!
But He alone is all we seek!

O that your bright and shining face
Would shine in candle one,
And grant by your almighty grace
That we embrace the Son.

Heavenly Father,
who chose the Blessed Virgin Mary
to be the mother of the promised saviour:
fill us your servants with your grace,
that in all things we may embrace your holy will
and with her rejoice in your salvation;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Morten Lauridsen (USA, 1943– ). O Magnum Mysterium from Matins of Christmas. Choir of Kings College, Cambridge.

O magnum mysterium,
et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,
jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera
meruerunt portare
Dominum Christum.

O great mystery,
and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord,
lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb
was worthy to bear
Christ the Lord.