Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming (Advent 13-2014)

Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming is the next traditional Christmas carol in our Carol Me, Christmas (2014 Advent Devotional Series telling of the birth of Christ.  This time the focus is on His being born from the Virgin Mary.  Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming is not in all the Protestant hymnals with good reason: there’s debate about whether the Rose is Jesus (as asserted by Protestants) or Mary (as preferred by some Catholics).  I cannot explain it any better than in the notes offered here on a web site called Hymns and Carols of Christmas:

Originally published in 1582 (or 1588) in Gebetbuchlein des Frater Conradus, this 19-stanza Catholic hymn’s focus was Mary, who is compared to the mystical rose praised in the Song of Solomon 2:1: “I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.” The hymn is believed to have originated in Trier, and once [sic] source stated that on one Christmas Eve, a monk in Trier found a blooming rose while walking in the woods. He placed the rose in a vase, and placed it before the alter [sic] to the Virgin Mary. Some sources indicate the hymn might date back into the 14th Century.

By 1609, however, the Protestants had adopted the hymn, and changed its focus from Mary to Jesus (citing Isaiah 11:1). According to Keyte and Parrott, in medieval iconography, the tree of Jesse is often depicted as a rose plant. They also note that it’s unclear whether Ros’ (rose) or Reis (branch) was the original reading of line 1. The revision first appeared in Michael Praetorius’ Musae Sioniae in 1609. Praetorius is occasionally mistaken as the author.

The words and music of Es ist ein Ros entsprungen (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming) first appeared as 23 verses in the Alte Katholische Geistliche Kirchengesäng, (Cologne, 1599).  Gradually reduced to nineteen verses and then to six in the Catholic Church, it was translated into English as only verses 1 and 2 by Theodore Baker (1894).  A third stanza appears in some hymnals written by Harriet Krauth Spaeth as Behold, a Branch Is Growing.

The music itself has a madrigal sound—the tune appearing in most Protestant hymnals as an arrangement written by the aforementioned German composer Michael Praetorius.

Theologically, this is another weaker hymn in many regards.  Much of its focus has been devoted to the Virgin Mary (in the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary) but I include it for a specific reason.  The prophecy from Isaiah underpinning this hymn points to something truly important.

Isaiah 11:1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD– 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.

This Messianic prophecy goes back to Jesse, King David’s father.  That is the stump…and the Holy Seed will be the stump remaining in the land.  That comes a few chapters earlier in Isaiah.

Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” 9 He said, “Go and tell this people: “‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ 10 Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” 11 Then I said, “For how long, O Lord?” And he answered: “Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left deserted and the fields ruined and ravaged, 12 until the LORD has sent everyone far away and the land is utterly forsaken. 13 And though a tenth remains in the land, it will again be laid waste. But as the terebinth and oak leave stumps when they are cut down, so the Holy Seed will be the stump in the land.”

At a time when the world is at war, when desolation seems everywhere, when houses are deserted, fields ruined, lives torn up by discord, violence, and hatred, God’s solution is the Holy Seed in the stump.  A precious Branch that bears fruit.

This is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate. 
He alone is the answer to the discord and chaos of the world then and our world today.

Jesus may be a son of David, but interestingly David isn’t the stump, his father Jesse is.  Jesus doesn’t come about as a man of human origin alone whose ancestry can be explained by simple human lineage.  He skipped generations spiritually, going back to the stump to prove that God didn’t send a really good regular guy who would grow up to be the Messiah by living a good life.  He sent His Son, born as our Savior; born as our Lord, and born as our King–all of which He was even before His birth because He is God.  He is Immanuel, God with us.  He is the eternal Word made flesh.  He is the Holy Seed, born of a virgin whose name was Mary.

As you listen to this version by the Baylor Bronze Hand Bell Choir, ponder the Thought Focus for Today.

Thought Focus for Today: Jesus’ Incarnation was miraculous.  He was born of a virgin named Mary.  It’s an event that never happened before and will never happen again.  God went back to the stump in the land in a spiritual sense and yet the Holy Seed Jesus does have a physical lineage too. 

How does veneration of the Virgin Mary risk jumping the gap to becoming worship of a woman who was a really good woman, but not divine like her son Jesus, the unique Son of God?

lo how a roseLo, 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.


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.


Carol Me, Christmas (2014 Advent Devotional Series) began November 30th.  By way of reminder, if you haven’t signed up yet, you can receive these devotional studies in your email throughout Advent 2014 by entering your email address on the SeminaryGal.com home page in the space provided in the sidebar.  Or “Like” the SeminaryGal Facebook page to access them there.  If you like these devotionals, I’d really appreciate your letting others know so I can continue to spread the Good News far and wide.  Blessings to you, in Christ always, Barbara <><

Categories Articles and Devotionals, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on December 12, 2014

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