Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Meditations: Rose Imagery

Two Christmas songs, one old ("Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming") and one new ("Rose of Bethlehem") use imagery of Christ as a rose. When I was in college, I sang Joseph Martin's Christmas cantata The White Rose with my church choir, and the narration and songs explore this imagery beautifully. (There are four videos that show another church's production of the cantata; as you can guess, if you know anything about my church, we did not have ballerinas perform in our church! If I remember correctly, the narration was changed to make the Christmas story and gospel more clear.)

Anyway, I was wondering if Christ is referred to as a rose in Scripture and/or where this rose imagery came from. I'm making the connections here because I haven't found any research linking these, but this is what I've learned. I've organized the ideas in chronological order.

1) Song of Solomon 2:1 (960-931 B.C.) - "I am a rose of Sharon, and a lily of the valleys" (ESV). Some have interpreted this verse to refer to Christ--possibly influenced by songs discussed later--but that is an error. The speaker of this verse is the Shulammite woman and you'd have to go through some pretty fancy hermeneutical footwork to make this verse apply to Christ. There are no verses that call Jesus the "Rose of Sharon." (Rabbit trail: The song "Lily of the Valley" [Charles W. Fry, 1881] also incorrectly connects this verse to Christ.)

2) "The Legend of the Rose" (unknown date [post-Christ's birth, pre-16th century]) is a story about a shepherdess who had no gift to bring to the Christ Child. An angel turned her tears into a white rose that she gave to Christ.

3) "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"
This German carol ("Es ist ein Ros ent sprungen") was a work in progress over several hundred years and may have been inspired by "The Legend of the Rose." The first two stanzas were written in German in the late 16th century. They were translated into English by Theodore Baker in 1894. Friedrich Layritz wrote verses 3-4 and they were translated by Harriet Reynolds Krauth in 1875. Verse 5 was translated or written by John C. Mattes in 1914 (cyberhymnal). 

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.

Isaiah ’twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind;
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.

The shepherds heard the story proclaimed by angels bright,
How Christ, the Lord of glory was born on earth this night.
To Bethlehem they sped and in the manger found Him,
As angel heralds said.

This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air,
Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere;
True Man, yet very God, from sin and death He saves us,
And lightens every load.

O Savior, Child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Savior, King of glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray, to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day!

4) "Gesu Bambino" was written by Pietro Alessandro Yon in 1917. I've always loved this song; I especially like the "ah's" and the quotation from "O Come, All Ye Faithful."

When blossoms flowered 'mid 
The snows upon a winter night 
Was born the Child the Christmas Rose, 
The King of Love and Light 
The angels sang, the shepherds sang, 
The grateful earth rejoiced
And at His blessed birth the stars 
Their exultation voiced. 

O come let us adore Him, 
O come let us adore Him
O come let us adore Him, 
Christ the Lord. 

Again the heart with rapture glows 
To greet the holy night 
That gave the world it's Christmas Rose, 
It's king of Love and Light 
Let ev'ry voice acclaim His name, 
The grateful chorus swell 
From paradise to earth He came 
That we with Him might dwell 

O come let us adore him, 
O come let us adore Him, 
O come let us adore Him, 
Christ the Lord. 

Ah! O come let us adore Him 
Ah! O come let us adore Him 
Ah! Adore Him, Christ, the Lord. 

5) "Jesus, Rose of Sharon" was written in 1922 by Ida Guirey.

Jesus, Rose of Sharon, bloom within my heart;
Beauties of Thy truth and holiness impart,
That where’er I go my life may shed abroad
Fragrance of the knowledge of the love of God.

Jesus, blessed Jesus, Rose of Sharon,
Bloom in radiance
And in love within my heart.

Jesus, Rose of Sharon, sweeter far to see
Than the fairest flow’rs of earth could ever be,
Fill my life completely, adding more each day
Of Thy grace divine and purity, I pray.

Jesus, Rose of Sharon, balm for ev’ry ill,
May Thy tender mercy’s healing power distil
For afflicted souls of weary burdened men,
Giving needy mortals health and hope again.

Jesus, Rose of Sharon, bloom forevermore;
Be Thy glory seen on earth from shore to shore,
Till the nations own Thy sov’reignty complete,
Lay their honors down and worship at Thy feet.

6) Joseph Martin's The Winter Rose (2000). The video can be seen here. The following are the lyrics for the title song.

In the silence of the winter, 
While stars shown high above, 
God sent from heaven's garden, 
A rose to show His love. 

It opened in the dark of night, 
While the world was fast asleep. 
So perfect was its beauty, 
It made the heavens weep. 

The angels paused to wonder, 
Upon that winsome sight. 
And kings and shepherds gathered 
To worship in its light. 

They all breathed in its beauty, 
A precious sweet perfume. 
And in the bleak midwinter 
The Rose began to bloom. 

O let us now remember 
When God put on the thorn. 
And Love restored the garden 
And the Winter Rose was born. 

Oh, Love restored the garden 
And the Winter Rose was born.

7) Selah's "Rose of Bethlehem" was released on October 29, 2002. It was written by Lowell Alexander in 1992.
There's a Rose in Bethlehem
With a beauty quite divine
Perfect in this world of sin
On this silent holy night

There's a fragrance much like hope
That it sends upon the wind
Reaching out to every soul
From a lowly manger's crib

Oh, Rose of Bethlehem
How lovely, pure, and sweet
Born to glorify the Father
Born to wear the thorns for me

There's a Rose in Bethlehem
Colored red like mercy's blood
Tis the flower of our faith
Tis the blossom of God's love 

Though its bloom is fresh with youth
Surely what will be He knows
For a tear of morning dew 
Is rolling down the Rose

Conclusion: While the imagery is appropriate and can be used beautifully to communicate truths about Christ, the image of Christ as a rose is not rooted in Scripture (pun intended). I have no objections to these poems/songs, but the imagery seems to be based either on a misinterpretation of Scripture or an early legend.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Christmas Meditations: Carols

As I've been thinking about Advent, I've also been thinking about Christmas songs with deeper meaning than those describing the circumstances of Christ's birth--though the story certainly is important and many of those songs are beautiful--or the secular Christmas songs which are fun but completely miss the true meaning of Christmas. I know there are modern Christmas songs which have deep theological meaning and which explore the themes of Christ's incarnation, death, resurrection, and second coming, but I want to just look at some of the traditional Christmas carols.

First, four complete Christmas carols in which the gospel is especially clear.

My favorite Christmas carol, "Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus":
Come thou long-expected Jesus, 
Born to set Thy people free; 
From our fears and sins release us, 
Let us find our rest in Thee. 
Israel's strength and consolation, 
Hope of all the earth Thou art; 
Dear Desire of every nation, 
Joy of every longing heart. 

Born Thy people to deliver, 
Born a Child and yet a King. 
Born to reign in us for ever, 
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring. 
By Thine own eternal Spirit 
Rule in all our hearts alone; 
By Thine all-sufficient merit 
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

I love all of the names for Christ and the allusions to Scripture in "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel":
O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear. 
Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, Thou Lord of Might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law, 
In cloud, and majesty, and awe.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save 
And give them victory o’er the grave.

O come, Thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, 
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high, 
And close the path to misery.

O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show, 
And cause us in her ways to go.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease, 
And be Thyself our King of peace.

This Christmas carol advent shows all of the Scripture references alluded to in "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing":
Hark the herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled"
Joyful, all ye nations rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With the angelic host proclaim:
"Christ is born in Bethlehem"
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Christ by highest heav'n adored
Christ the everlasting Lord!
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

Hail the heav'n-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings
Ris'n with healing in His wings
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The herald angels sing
"Glory to the newborn King!"

"Angels from the Realms of Glory":
Angels from the realms of glory
Wing your flight o’er the earth.
Ye who sang creations story
Now proclaim Messiah’s birth. 

Come and worship, come and worship, come and worship,
Worship Christ the newborn King. 

Shepherds in the fields abiding
Watching o’er your flocks by night.
God with man is now residing
Yonder shines the infant light 

Saints before the altar bending,
Watching long in hope and fear.
Suddenly the Lord descending
in His temple shall appear. 

Below are selections from some Christmas carols that emphasize the gospel and Christ's return. I've included just the pertinent parts of the carols here and I've provided links to the complete lyrics.

From "O, Little Town of Bethlehem":
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given! 
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His heaven. 
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin, 
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.

From "O Holy Night":
O holy night! The stars are brightly shining. 
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth. 
Long lay the world in sin and error pining, 
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.

The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger, 
In all our trials born to be our Friend. 
He knows our need, to our weakness is no stranger. 
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend.

From "Joy to the World":
Joy to the world! The Lord is come. 
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room, 
And heaven and nature sing.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessing flow
far as the curse is found.

From "Silent Night":
Christ the Savior, is born!
Christ the Savior, is born!

Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

From "Go, Tell It on the Mountain":
Down in a lowly manger
Our humble Christ was born
And God sent us salvation,
That blessed Christmas morn:

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

From "What Child is this?":
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.

The King of kings, salvation brings, 
Let loving hearts enthrone Him.

Myrrh is mine: Its bitter perfume
Breaths a life of gathering gloom.
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding dying,
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb. 
Glorious now behold Him arise,
King and God and Sacrifice.
Alleluia, alleluia!
Sounds through the earth and skies. 

Christmas Meditations: The Twelve Days of Christmas

Recently, I heard that the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas" contains Christian symbolism and was used to teach children certain facts about the Bible. However, according to, this is not true. You can read the article here.

Christmas Meditations: Prophecies of Christ's birth

On Monday, I read several chapters from Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears's book Vintage Jesus. (By the way, I'll give a review of this book when I finish it. I have a few things to say about it . . . ) These chapters focused on the Messianic prophecies and the virgin birth and were especially appropriate for reading this week. I like the detail and organization of chapter three, "How did people know Jesus was coming?" They give the date of the prophecy and a short summary, the promise, and then the fulfillment. Here are a few passages that relate to Christ's birth:

1) 4000 B.C.: Adam and Eve receive the prophecy that the prophecy that the Messiah (Jesus) would be born of a woman.
PROMISE: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel" (Gen. 3:15).
FULFILLMENT: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law" (Gal. 4:4).
2) 2000 B.C.: Abraham receives teh promise that the Messiah (Jesus) would descend from Abraham, through his son Isaac (not Ishmael), Isaac's son Jacob (not Esau), and Jacob's son Judah (not any of the other eleven brothers).
PROMISE: "In you [Abraham] all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3); "God said, 'No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him'" (Gen. 17:19); " see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel (Num. 24:17); "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until tribute comes to him; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples" (Gen. 49:10).
FULFILLMENT: "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and the father of Judah and his brothers (Matt. 1:1-2)
3) 700 B.C.: Isaiah prophesies that Jesus' mother would be a virgin who conceived by a miracle and that Jesus would be God who became a man.
PROMISE: "Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isa. 7:14).
FULFILLMENT: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 'Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel' (which means, God with us)" (Matt. 1:18-19).
4) 700 B.C.: Micah prophesies that Jesus would be born in the town of Bethlehem.
PROMISE: "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days" (Mic. 5:2).
FULFILLMENT: "In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn" (Luke 2:1-7).
5) 700 B.C.: Isaiah prophesies that Jesus would live his life without committing any sins.
PROMISE: "And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth" (Isa. 53:9).
FULFILLMENT: "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth" (I Pet. 2:21-22).
6) 700 B.C.: Hosea prophesies that Jesus' family would flee as refugees to Egypt to save his young life.
PROMISE: "When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son" (Hos. 11:1).
FULFILLMENT: "Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son'" (Matt. 2:13-15).
7) 400 B.C.: Malachi prophesies that Jesus would enter the temple. This is important because the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70 and no longer exists; subsequently, the prophecy could not have been fulfilled anytime after A.D. 70.
PROMISE: "'Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 3:1).
FULFILLMENT: "Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law" (Luke 2:25-27).
The rest of the Messianic prophecies discussed in this chapter relate to Christ's life, death, and resurrection, so I'll maybe mention those later.

As I was researching the Messianic prophecies, I found this website with a chart giving the prophecy, Old Testament scripture, and the New Testament fulfillment. He also gives a list of the 300 Messianic prophecies.

I've also heard before the odds that one person could fulfill all of the prophecies of Christ's birth and found the statistics here
Jesus would be a descendant of David.
104 (1 in 10,000)
Jesus would be born in Bethlehem.
105 (1 in 100,000)
Jesus would be a miracle worker.
105 (1 in 100,000)
Jesus would present Himself as King riding on a donkey.
106 (1 in 1,000,000)
Jesus would be betrayed by a friend for 30 pieces of silver.
106 (1 in 1,000,000)
Jesus would be crucified.
106 (1 in 1,000,000)
Jesus would first present Himself as King 173,880 days from the decree of Artaxerxes to rebuild Jerusalem.    

106 (1 in 1,000,000)

Total Probability (without God)
1038 (1 in a 100 billion, billion, billion, billion)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas Meditations: Advent

I originally intended to post something about Christmas everyday this week, but then the week took off and I didn't start composing until today. I have several topics in mind, so we'll see what I get to.

This month I have been reading Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas, which is a collection of readings for Advent edited by Nancy Guthrie. While I realize the liturgical readings are from the Bible, I’ve never read any Advent readings before and have been wondering why Baptists don’t follow the Advent services and readings. I guess it’s because we don’t follow the liturgical calendar (except for a strange one which I don’t really want to vent about now) or don’t want to identify with anything remotely Catholic.

I’ve only just begun researching this, so does anyone have any ideas?

I, for one, have been blessed to read this book and meditate a little on Christ’s incarnation, death, and second coming. I wish I had found the recommended Scripture readings earlier in the season, but I’m going to follow the readings until Christmas (hopefully, I’ll have time to do a little back-tracking to catch up!). In a year that is so busy and focused on activities, I’m thankful for this book and these passages which focus my heart, mind, and attention on what is truly important.