I am so grateful to all who are participating tonight, readers and musicians, to Andy and his church, Fullerton FUMC, for sharing this rendition of Lo how a Rose. I did not grow up singing Lo How a Rose e’er blooming. Though I have heard it from time to time it is not incredibly familiar, it doesn’t say “Jesus,” at all, doesn’t seem to echo the stories we are used to hearing around Christmas eve about mangers, shepherds and angels or followers of stars, and let’s face it, if you are not a trained musician, it is hard to sing.
I was never really sure why is this an Advent/Christmas song at all.
But recently I have come to appreciate it, I can’t give you a date but I remember thinking once, oh, this must be what that one song about the rose blooming on a winter night is all about.
I do remember once around ten years ago when I was living in a time of deep depression within myself. I cried often, probably daily, and I could not find my way to much hope or joy in life. I was living in Arizona, a very dry place with not much natural vegetation. The house we rented had only dirt and stones in the yard. Except for at the back there was a hedge of a certain bush that is good at surviving and even growing flowers dependably in the dry weather and extreme heat. One day I was sitting out there praying and noticed one particular flower. There was a realization in me that I had done nothing for this flower to bless me with its bloom. I had not planted the bush or watered it or even learned what kind it was. It was just there, offering me this simple bloom. A small, precious display of beauty that was pure gift to me. God had a message for me in that flower that day. There is gift, there is grace, in all kinds of circumstances.
There are different understandings of how this hymn came to be. There is a legend of a monk in France finding a rose blooming in the woods on Christmas Eve. Maybe that is the true source for this hymn, maybe not.
But this kind of thing does happen. While we expect roses to bloom in certain seasons, other plants too, sometimes they follow their own timing and bloom way out of season. Sometimes they grow in soil they are not planted in. There is a spilling over of life that cannot be contained in neat formulas, categories and expectations. This is the definition of grace.
And so the hymn speaks of this time, the dead of winter, when everything is lifeless, hopeless. Sounds a little like 2020, doesn’t it? The way this pandemic won’t give up, continues to infect and hurt and kill and take away so much from us, now it’s even mutating- the way people are divided- the political ploys that keep going and keep people from getting help- my goodness there is a lot to say this is truly the dead of winter, midnight on the coldest night-
But John speaks of the brightness breaking apart the shadows. Luke tells of an angelic host singing to shepherds out there spending the night with the sheep. Titus says in Jesus is the grace of God made known to us.
This rose in midwinter is Jesus born to us.
So, I’ve never chosen this song for worship before- but I’m so glad it has come to us from the church Andy plays for and sings for in Fullerton- it’s such a perfect Christmas Eve reflection for 2020. Depression. Anxiety, just regular uncertainty are all around, suicide and addiction are on the rise. We grieve losses of loved ones and losses of other kinds too numerous to count. This is a metaphorical dead of winter at midnight.
But lo- a rose blooms. Even in such a cold midwinter, even in the hour furthest from the sun, a rose can bloom. An unexpected appearance of grace and gift can appear without us even asking. God can come.
Because of Jesus we know God does just that.
This is what we celebrate tonight beloved. There is no human misery God does not come to interrupt, there is no political power play God does not want to work through, no valley of shadows God will not walk through with us. Jesus, a baby born to a family hastily formed, displaced from their home, pure gift of God, full of grace and truth, to show God to us. The rose has bloomed against all expectations, pure gift. Thanks be to God. Amen, Alleluia.