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Sermons on the Black Letter Days
Or Minor Festivals of the Church of England
by John Mason Neale

London: Joseph Masters, 1872. Third edition.


O Radix. December 18.


THE Collect for to-day is:--

"O Root of Jesse, Which standest for a sign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, and to Whom the Gentiles shall pray: come now and set us free, and no longer tarry."

It seems at first sight strange that our LORD should be called the Root of Jesse; Jesse, as you all know, was the father of David; and therefore from him it was that CHRIST was descended. So that Jesse was the root whence our LORD came. But the Root of Jesse means that Root, in which Jesse, and all the other holy men of old, put their trust: that Root, which has brought forth the fruit of life and salvation to mankind.

Now why is our LORD called a Root? In the first place, because, as a tree, its branches, its beauty, its fruit, everything, depend entirely on the root, so all that the Church of GOD does, and all she is, all that any of us can do, all our hopes, all our good deeds, all our faith, all our love, comes from CHRIST alone, and can no more have any being without Him, than a tree can without its root. Then again; a root, we all know, has no beauty to recommend it: it is dark, ugly, rough, the part of the tree that is least pleasing to the sight. So when our LORD was on earth, He had, as Isaiah says, "no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we shall desire Him." It is not so with His Body now. Now it is glorious and beautiful: but in the days of His dwelling on earth, when He was the Man of Sorrows, and acquainted with grief, it was very different. The Jews said, "Thou art not yet fifty years old," when, according to the flesh, He was but two and thirty years old: and when even His Blessed Mother had not reached the age of fifty. So much had He suffered, and such marks of suffering did He bear!

Again: a root is that part of a tree which is least seen. So with CHRIST. Thirty years He dwelt in a carpenter's shop at Nazareth; and when He came forth and began to teach, still He hid Himself from the crowds, and His great miracles were done in secret; His friends said, "If Thou do these things, show Thyself to the world."

But the Collect goes on, that CHRIST is to stand "as a sign to the nations:" and so Isaiah said before. When was this? When He was lifted up on the Cross, that He might draw all men to Him; a sign of GOD'S love to mankind; a sign of GOD'S hatred of sin; a sign of GOD'S justice, in that He spared not His own SON: a sign to which we are to look and live; a sign on which we fix all our hopes. And "a sign to the nations," because, by means of the death of CHRIST, all nations, and no longer the Jews only, should be saved. Yes, the Cross on which our LORD was lifted up is the sign of every Christian, reminding us Whose we are, and Whom we serve; what we must expect, for the servant is not above his Master; and what will be the end of these troubles and afflictions, namely, victory; for it was while hanging on the Cross, that our LORD conquered the Devil, and set free mankind from his power. It goes on, " At Whom the kings shall shut their mouths." That is, they shall see Him going forth conquering and to conquer, and shall not be able to resist; they shall, as it were, be dumb. From the beginning till now the kings of the earth have stood up, and the rulers have taken counsel together, against the LORD, and against His Anointed. They have had all the power and learning and riches and strength of the world on their side; they have had fire and sword and wild beasts and tortures of all kinds for the servants of JESUS CHRIST. And what have they been able to do? The more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. Once a great Emperor so nearly destroyed the Church, that he had a medal struck in honour of having brought it to an end: and one or two of these medals have been, by GOD'S good Providence, preserved, to stand an everlasting witness of that king's folly. Another Emperor bent all his efforts to laugh men out of being Christians; and he succeeded in making a great many turn back to the worship of idols. At last, when he was going out to war, he made a vow, that if he came back, he would utterly put an end to "the Galileans," so he called the Christians. He went forth to battle, and was wounded to death; and while he was lying on the ground, covered with his blood, he cast some of it towards Heaven, and cried out, as if he were speaking to JESUS CHRIST, "THOU HAST CONQUERED, O GALILEAN!"

We pray at the end of the Collect: "come and deliver us now: tarry not." "Deliver us"--from what? The Jews could not understand this. "We are Abraham's seed," they said, "and were never in bondage to any man." Deliver us from the power of the devil, so that the time may come when we shall be vexed by temptations no more; from the sinfulness of our own hearts, so that we may no longer have to say, "The good that I would, that I do not, but the evil that I would not, that do I;" from all fear of after all being cast out of Heaven; from all pain and suffering on earth; from all sights of the sufferings of others; from all the injustice and cruelty which we see, and hear, in this world. To be delivered from sin, to be delivered from fear, to be delivered from sorrow; is not this a glorious deliverance to long for?--and it is this which the SON of GOD now comes to bestow on us. He comes, if we are only found willing, to take us to that land where we shall see GOD without any darkness, serve Him without any weariness, love Him without any coldness, rejoice in Him without any sorrow, obey Him without any rest; where all tears shall be wiped from all faces: where the inhabitant shall not say, "I am sick:" "where death shall be swallowed up in victory."

And now to GOD the FATHER, the SON, and the HOLY GHOST, be all honour and glory for ever. Amen.

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