“Make yourself at home.” It’s a nice thing to say to someone when they come over. It’s meant to put them at ease. It’s warm and inviting. I remember being told this a lot when I was asked to house-sit for people. And, as kind as it was. I knew it was only conditional. It was a temporary offer. I was welcome to eat some food from the fridge or lay down on the couch but painting a bedroom or organizing the kitchen cabinets the way I wanted to was never part of the bargain.
When Jesus invites us to abide, to dwell, to make our home, he’s offering more than a conditional bargain. He’s offering us eternity at home in God.
When John writes in his gospel that the “Word was made flesh” he chooses a word the resembles something more like “tented,” “tabernacled,” set up a temporary dwelling. The Word was made flesh and camped out among us. But, when Jesus talks about the relationship he’s offering with his disciples it has a more long-term, if not permanent ring. Make your home with me.
Isaiah 11:1-3 / Matthew 1:1-17
Well, I managed to get through that long Gospel reading! Why on earth did Matthew start his Gospel with a long, tedious list of names? Because for Matthew the gospel, (the Good News he was proclaiming), was entirely dependent on who Jesus is. The identity of Jesus is everything. And central to his identity is that he is a branch, stemming from the root of Jesse. O root, O radix Jesse, as today’s Advent antiphon puts it.
Identity is central to the whole prophetic tradition in the Old Testament. That tradition became more and more focused on the hope that one day, God would save his people by sending them a Savior – an anointed one—a Messiah. But who would he be? How will we know who it is? People were always asking “who are you?” “Where are you from?” Well, Isaiah tells us in our reading today: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him….” He will be the one. We will recognize the Messiah when he comes, because he will come from the root of Jesse.
Well, the long genealogical list at the beginning of Matthew is pretty dreary – but the image of a tree, a family tree, is much more appealing to the imagination. And that was certainly true for the medieval imagination. So over the centuries, artists have created some of the most beautiful and imaginative trees to teach and to celebrate Jesus’ genealogical identity. They are called Jesse Trees. We see them in stained glass windows. (The oldest piece of stained glass in England is the Jesse Tree at York Minster.) We see them in stone casings (like the wonderful Jesse Tree greeting pilgrims at the entrance to the cathedral of St. James Santiago de Compostela.) And we see them in illuminated manuscripts, such as the one you have before you. It is taken from the famous Winchester Psalter from the 12th century.