Monday, December 5, 2016

Music of Advent - Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

Week 2, Monday—Isaiah 35:1-2

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming 15th century German, trans. Theodore Baker

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 flower bright, amid the cold of winter
When half-gone was the night.

This particular Advent hymn is not usually a favorite with the congregations I have served.  I think maybe it is because it has no time signature.  Knowing little about the technicalities of music, what I do know is that the tune can be a little awkward.  Nevertheless, I like it and it has become one of my favorite Advent tunes, not in spite of the timing, but because of it.  It is haunting, and a bit nostalgic.  You can almost see the sepia tones coming up around your memories as you sing this hymn. 

Of course the rose to which this hymn is referring is Mary, mother of Jesus.  There is no end to tunes about Mary at Advent and Christmas.  But this one does not directly reference Mary of Nazareth, but a Rose of Sharon.  In the Isaiah passage, it tells of a crocus, but biblical scholars have attributed to the “crocus growing as a lily among the brambles” as the Rose of Sharon.  There are other ideas of this, but I think the lily among the brambles is a good image for this particular hymn. 

In Isaiah, without knowledge of Mary of Nazareth, the writer tells of a crocus that “shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.”  Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 rejoices, singing of God’s glory and majesty.  In her expectant condition, Mary is a flower “in bloom” with the glory of God. 

As we prepare for the birth of the incarnate God, let us remember Mary who was the lily among the brambles of troubled Nazareth and Ceasar’s reign.  In spite of her circumstances, she rejoiced with song and pondered in her heart the things of God.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
   the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
   and rejoice with joy and singing.

Isaiah 35:1

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