The beautiful hymn “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming” (originally the 16th century German song “Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen”) is one of my favorite songs of the Advent Season.  It draws its inspiration from the following Messianic passage from the Prophet Isaiah:

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. And the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. (Isaiah 11:1-2)

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. (Isaiah 11:1)

Arbre de Jessé/ Tree of Jesse, Guiard des Moulins, Historical Bible, 14th -15th century

In Isaiah’s time the Davidic kingdom had been destroyed, and the people of Israel were living in exile.  Nonetheless, it was clear to the Jewish people that the Prophet was speaking not only of their return to their earthly homeland and the rebirth a truncated  political entity:  he was delivering God’s promise that, when things looked most hopeless in this world, He would send a Savior, his Messiah, to usher in a Kingdom greater that any conceived by mere men. In this song the “shoot” (the Messiah Jesus, descended through his human mother Mary from King David, Jesse’s son) is depicted as a lovely Rose, a small but vibrant manifestation of God’s presence where all seemed dead:

 It came, a flow’ret bright,

Amid the cold of winter,

When half spent was the night.

     In the Season of Advent the Church reminds us that God has also promised to send his Messiah again in glory at the end of time.  This past year has given Catholics and all Christians plenty of reasons to feel that our world is collapsing, and that we are living in a sort of internal exile (we need not go into specific details here).  Our Hope will not be realized in this world, but only in the New Jerusalem in the world to come.

     For this reason, we look to the Blessed Mother as our model, who staked  her life on trusting in the promise of an angel.  And so the song invites us to join her in gazing on the Rose springing from the stump of Jesse:

 With Mary we behold it,

The virgin mother kind;

To show God’s love aright,

She bore to men a Savior,

When half spent was the night.

May the remainder of your Advent be a blessed one, as we wait in hope for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ!

The Lord is close at hand – come, let us worship Him

A note on the clips below: I have managed since the inception of this blog at the beginning of the year to avoid posting any music from the Google-owned YouTube (as explained in my opening manifesto). The best free alternative is Vimeo, but their selection is much more limited. I have often had to create my own videos for the musical selections I wanted to post.

Fortunately, there are numerous versions of “Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming” on Vimeo. I’ve posted two of the better ones below. The first is a lush and ornate treatment from Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago. The second is a spare and haunting version from St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in North Wales, PA. Both are beautiful renditions, although the second version is more to my taste: I think the more austere treatment captures the spirit of this song better (even if the Age of Covid Zoom Chorus format is a little annoying). Why not take some time on this Second Sunday of Advent to listen to both, and contemplate the meaning of that Shoot from the Stump of Jesse?

Featured image top of page “Wild Rose” from https://www.smmtc.org/plantofthemonth/WildRose.php (Santa Monica Mountains Trial Council)

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