Advent Devotional — Friday, December 7

December 7, 2007, 8:30 am; posted by
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Friday, December 7, 2007
Lo, how a rose e’er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse’s lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came a floweret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half-spent was the night.
” (Lo, How A Rose, 15th century German carol; part of a reading from the Vespers Office in The Divine Hours)

Jesus as a rose; it is a decidedly non-Scriptural thought, but worthwhile. The passage to which the hymn alludes is, of course, Isaiah 11:1: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” The idea is that the line of David, long since considered dead, would again gain life in a coming king, a king we Christians understand to be Jesus. Of course, Jesus is depicted as a young shoot which will grow into a strong tree, noble and majestic, even more so than the stump which preceded it.

And yet those 15th century German Catholics (Christians were all Catholics then) took this verse and made Jesus not a strong tree, but a tender, beautiful rose. Not a sapling rising up from a dead stump, but a gentle, defiant rose poking through the snow in the dead of winter, even in the middle of the night. As I say, the image is not Scriptural, at least not exactly. But I think it is an important image nonetheless. In a way, they are quite similar; each points to Jesus embodying life even in the midst of death all around him. Both dead tree stumps and long German winters are inhospitable to life, and both saplings and roses point to life in the midst of such inhospitality.

But I think the analogy of the rose is an important one because it is beautiful, and if I may say it, feminine in a sense. Often, we characterize Jesus’ life and mission in stereotypically masculine terms: conquering death and hell, vanquishing demons, achieving our salvation and rescuing His people. Yet Jesus’ life was more than a contest won, more than a task accomplished.

His was also a life that embodied beauty. Can we not say that the Christian life is the most beautiful life there is? Can we not say that the Christian vision of a life rightly lived, using the gifts He has given us for His sake and the sake of the world, is not just effective but also beautiful? Was not His self-sacrifice on our behalf not only justifying but beautiful?

Christ came to do more than the simple accomplishments of tasks that needed to be done; He came to embody this beautiful life and to allow us to enter into it more fully than we ever could on our own. For that we need more than a utilitarian tree; we need a beautiful Rose.


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