Our daughter is pregnant with her first child, and we are beyond excited! Abby’s into her eighth month and she’s all baby and promise – down to the glow that never seems to leave her. The other day she pulled my hand to her stomach just in time for me to feel a foot kick across her belly. Joy!
I remember when I was pregnant and complete strangers would reach out and touch my swollen belly. They always laid their hand there gently, with reverence and a smile or wide-eyed wonder. It was as though by touching pregnant me, they’d connect to the hope and promise and blessing of new life. It’s funny how personal space disappears when you are pregnant – even you, the mother, disappear! – and everything is all about the baby.
This second week of Advent, I think of Mary. Like Abby, she must have been all baby and promise and glow. “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming” is how the carol describes her, echoing Solomon’s song about the rose of Sharon. The carol, like pregnancy, perfectly captures the feeling of Advent. Everything’s dark, it’s the dead of winter, yet beneath the dark–inside it–is the promise of life. We can spend the dark night of Advent in hope and preparation because we know the child (life! light! hope! joy!) will come.
The carol moves us from Advent into Christmas. As Isaiah once promised, “a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel – God with us” (Isa 7:14). In the song, the rose brings forth “a flow’ret” — “true man and true God!” — who dispels the darkness and saves us from sin and death.
Multiple versions of this ancient carol have come down to us. The oldest was published anonymously in German in 1582 but it may have originated some 200 years earlier. Early versions had anywhere from 19 to 23 stanzas (imagine trying to get through that in church today!), but they soon were shortened to six and then to the three familiar now. It began as a Catholic hymn that featured Mary as the rose, the way I described it above. Later, Protestant versions focused on Jesus as the rose – as in the English translation by Theodore Baker (1894), which is the one most familiar to us today. Set to the lovely, haunting arrangement by Michael Praetorius, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” has become one of the best-loved songs of the season.
You can read those lyrics below next to the literal translation of the stanzas and decide which you prefer. Both have merit, and I enjoy singing the new song as much as I enjoy meditating on the (to me richer) meaning found in the original. God did not force his way into humanity, he came via the Virgin’s “yes.” And the child who is born Christmas morning is not merely God in human form, he is God born of a woman, God who took on our flesh through Mary, truly man as much as he is truly God.
Whether Jesus is the root or the rose or the flow’ret in the carol, the miracle is that he can take root in our hearts as he took root in Mary’s womb. His life springs forth “amid the cold of winter … when half spent was the night.” I think again of my daughter. On one level, there’s nothing there but a swollen belly, awkwardness, pain, interminable waiting. But the reality is, a child will soon be born. I place my hand on her belly and feel the baby kick.
Does your life seem dark and cold? Underneath, God is at work.
In these pregnant weeks leading to Christmas, draw close to Mary. Reach out to her, connect to the hope and promise and blessing of new life on its way. Learn from her the patient preparation that is Advent.
“Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” (Es ist ein Ros entsprungen)
© 2015 Sarah Christmyer
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Each post in this Advent series features a different Advent or Christmas carol, all of which can be found on Kitty Cleveland’s CD, O Holy Night.
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