O root of Jesse, you stand as an ensign to the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, and nations bow in worship: Come and deliver us, and tarry not.
The language of our faith often combines two seemingly opposite ideas, juxtaposing them so that between these opposing “poles,” a “charged particle field” is created. This field of faith, if you will, is the place where the mystery of God is made manifest. It is to that place that all authentic belief goes. We have such language—and its benefits—in this Great O Antiphon: roots and ensigns.
Roots are in the ground and immobile. Ensigns (flags or banners, signs and symbols of something) are above the ground and tend to move a great deal. Roots anchor. Ensigns lead. Roots hold things in place. Ensigns draw us onward. Roots are hidden. Ensigns are very visible (that is their point). Our Lord is both these things. In understanding this, we can understand more deeply the fullness of Christ's claim on us as well as his power to redeem us.
Christ is addressed here as both the “root of Jesse” (connecting him the Davidic lineage of Israel, literally rooting him in the historic past) and as an “ensign to the peoples” (a banner of God’s redeeming purpose for all nations). Both in his royal lineage and as sign of the Divine power, Christ is the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords. His dominion is in both the ancient, rooted reality of human experience, and in the constantly moving, changing situations of the here-and-now. All human power, above and below, high and low, must and will “bow in worship” on the Last Day.
But this imagery speaks to Christ’s disciples, as well. Are we truly rooted in our spiritual ancestry, or are we rootless creatures, pushed here and there by the anxieties and passions of our day? Does our life look to Christ as ensign, or do we follow other banners, with divided loyalties? If kings will shut their mouths and nations bow in worship to Christ, can the same be said for us as disciples now? Examining our finances, the state of our relationships with family and friends, our level of charity to those in need, the places we go on the internet, how we judge others, and the way we use our time… all of these tell God where we are rooted, and whose ensign we follow.