Christmas Unwrapped: A Righteous Branch

By Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

Last week, I downloaded a new Christmas album. It was lovely, with a full listing of both secular and religious Christmas favorites, and as I was singing along …. “Haste, haste to bring him laud, the babe the son of Mary…” I noticed my words did not match up to the words used by the singer. She had changed the word “laud” to the word “praise”.. and of course they are synonyms – Laud means praise, but of course I bristled at the changing of a familiar and sacred tune. How dare she change the lyrics to “What Child is This” I was very indignant. Then I realized why she’d done it. “LAUD” is not a word we use in our common vernacular, and many don’t know what it means.

In that moment I had a realization: Christmas carols are circling around us – extolling the birth of Christ, calling us to adore the Messiah, singing praise to the humanity and divinity of Christ! Enter a grocery store and in your ear is the theology of incarnation sung from aisle to aisle. Turn on the car radio and Christmas carols beckon out for us to “Come, let us adore him.” And with one “haste,haste to bring him laud” I realized we have a wonderful opportunity to explore those familiar songs anew.

So, we begin today to unwrap Christmas, by exploring one of the famous carols we have that is actually focused on ADVENT. Advent is a time of waiting, of promises made, of patiently marking each day, each moment until the birth of a child.

Most of our carols of the season are CHRISTMAS CAROLS, focused on the time AFTR the birth of Jesus, with very few Advent (pre-birth) carols. But one that is somewhat well-known is “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” so we begin our series by looking at hymn number 211in your United Methodist Hymnal.

Now you will see that this hymn has 7 verses – we only sing 4 in church…. you’re welcome. The text is a translation from the Latin  and is from the 9th century. The tune is from the 15th century French tune.

As you look at these words in the first three verses, you can discover the theme: We are calling for the baby to be born – Emmanuel, who is God with us. But we sing to this baby not just because birth is awesome, but because he will “ransom captive Israel” – save God’s people from their captivity, as they “mourn in lowly exile here.” This is a desperate cry of a people who have been imprisoned and wish to be saved, calling for an end to their suffering. The second verse calls for the God of Wisdom to order all things – to make the chaos stop and to reveal to us the path of knowledge. The third verse calls for God, the Warrior, to protect us and the fourth verse  calls for the Root of Jesse…

And here we pick up our scripture text from the book of Jeremiah, chapter 33, verses 14-15. Here, the prophet writes:

Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of lsrael and the house of Judah. ln those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch to spring forth for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.’

This Messiah, the prophet writes, will be a “root” of Jesse. What does that mean?

The Savior will be a righteous branch from the family tree of David, linking him to the royal family of David! This family tree was important to the ancestors of Jesus, to the scholars of the day, and to people far and wide who were looking for a Messiah. Jesus was a branch from the family tree of King David, a son of David, a King who would protect us, a savior who would save us from our sins. A righteous branch from a famous family tree. But this righteous branch was more than just a link to the past; it would be a sign of the hope to come!

You see, at the time of this writing, the “armies of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, were advancing on Jerusalem. The streets of Jerusalem will soon be filled with the corpses of her people (33:4-5), and the prophet Jeremiah himself (would be) imprisoned by King Zedekiah (33:1). The worst has not yet happened, but it (was) inevitable. Any reasonable person (could) see that the city is doomed. Jeremiah’s many prophecies of judgment–prophecies that have landed him in prison–are coming true. Yet now, in the midst of catastrophe, the prophet finally speaks words of promise!” (1)

“And now, in this passage, Jeremiah speaks … of one of the chief signs of God’s favor, the restoration of the Davidic line. A righteous Branch will sprout from the line of David…The image is one of hope and unexpected joy: new life springing up from what looks like a dead stump.” (2)

When I worked at Kailua United Methodist Church, they had a huge pine tree on their property. Every three years they would chop it down, leaving only a stump, take it into their sanctuary, decorate it and it would serve as their church Christmas Tree. Soon, a shoot would appear from the stump and it would grow into a new pine tree.  After appearing to be just an old stump, new life grows! 

So …Come, thou root of Jesse’s tree, an ensign (a standard, an example) of thy people be, and before you rulers will fall silent and people will cry for your mercy.

ln this season of Advent, may we, Iike those so Iong ago, proclaim the glory of the Lord in our words and songs, in our celebrations and in our actions: God is with us!

Jesus is Coming! Let us Prepare the way of the Lord! Amen.

  1. Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, Commentary on Jeremiah 33:14-16, found on
  2. Ibid.