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.

No comments: