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The Christmas Eve visit from Eunice, the hospice chaplain, left a welcome afterburn. Her Carolinian drawl flavored the recitation of the whimsical poem, “King John’s Christmas” by A.A. Milne, found in his collection, Now We Are Six. (1927). The surprise gift of this slim worn volume enhanced the telling.

Alone later with the book, I mulled over King John’s isolation, loneliness, and overwhelment, exacerbated by the coming of Christmas. Because his subjects disliked him, he sent his own Christmas cards and enjoyed them upon his mantel; then, hitched his brown stocking to it hoping for gifts that never filled it.

Christmas Eve, he climbed to his chimney and posted a long list to Father Christmas with his varied wants, including a big, red, india-rubber ball.

Yet, Christmas morning, his stocking was still empty. He groused:  

And, oh! if Father Christmas had loved me at all,
He would have brought a big, red india-rubber ball!”

King John stood by the window,
And frowned to see below
The happy bands of boys and girls
All playing in the snow.
A while he stood there watching,
And envying them all …
When through the window big and red
There hurtled by his royal head,
And bounced and fell upon the bed,
An india-rubber ball!

King John’s critical gift did come, after all, not the crackers, candy, chocolates, oranges, nut, and pocketknife of his wants. Play had been long absent in his life, jammed with kingly duties. He only had to follow the play in the ball to enter life.

In my present circumstances, I yearn for the big, red india-rubber ball. It will come in time.

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.

The third O Antiphon, December 19, 2020, addresses the promised Messiah as Root of Jesse, an image found in Isaiah 11: 1 and 10, and repeated in the prophet Jeremiah.

This O Antiphon begins with the rich metaphor: Root of Jesse that evidences the Holy’s intervention in human history. Jesse, pious farmer and breeder of sheep outside of Bethlehem, fathered David (1000 BCE), who became the second King of ancient Israel, founder of the Judean dynasty, statesman, warrior, musician, poet, author of the Psalms, and egregious sinner before his conversion of heart.

David’s total reliance upon Yahweh moved his people toward a new identity, only to disintegrate within moral lassitude following the opulent reign of his son Solomon. Still, the Israelites needed a Messiah who would liberate them; white-hot, their longing.

Then followed centuries of valiant leaders, all related to Jesse, with intermittent periods of peace and prosperity. Somewhere, veiled in the past, an unknown artist, seized by this succession of worthy leaders, imaged this phenomenon as the Tree of Life from which the Messiah would emerge.

Such must have also inspired the composer of this Antiphon. Reflection upon this composite would become a trenchant symbol/sign among peoples, kings, and nations (pagans). Here was power no one would mess with. Yet again, humankind has fallen short.   

Thus the continuing cry: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

It’s over—save for cleaning the streets thronged by last night’s revelers, aglow with their Party’s victory: fireworks, gongs, cowbells, whistles, bullhorns, drums, cheering, clapping, dancing, placards, signs, and so much more.

But is it over, depending on what it means?

In my perception, it is not. Both the Democratic and Republican Parties, despite the correctness of the election process, have taken unto themselves power that is not theirs to take—having edged out the living God from their proceedings. No surprise that the Hill’s merry-go-round will continue cranking out the same old issues, with accustomed rancor and couched in still more abstruse language. Word-Monopoly has its own winners.

This failure in leadership decries the modicum of trust our Founding Fathers had in the living God.  

So how recoup true leadership in our country, given its yawning divides, given its moneyed-puppeteers, behind the scenes, pulling the strings, given the pandemic weakening planet Earth? How face encroaching darkness bent upon wholesale destruction?

Certainly no response comes to mind save that offered by Jesus of Nazareth to the anawim, simple people eking out their lives in first-century Palestine, then occupied by the Romans. Yet, such hardships scoured their sensitivities, and opened their hearts to a new paradigm: the arduous work of Kingdom living—even within the proximity of materialism, secularism, and hedonism.

Indeed, the hearts of the anawim were grafted upon the Heart of God, the source of true leadership and humble service to others—Thus its phenomenal growth in the ancient world. We can grow similarly through meditating upon Matthew’s Kingdom text, chapters one, two and three, or working the Twelve Steps: their dynamic is the same.

But conversion of heart requires full consciousness. Given the prevalence of sloth, who on Capitol Hill are willing undergo a change of heart, to modify their manner of leadership? It’s hard work.

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