LSB 359: Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming – Christmastide

We have chosen LSB 359, Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming, as our AD 2021-2022 Christmastide seasonal hymn. During this beautiful season of the Church Year, we celebrate our Lord Jesus Christ’s taking on human flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to dwell among us, ultimately to die on the Cross to atone for our sins, and rise again to declare us right with the Father (Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:30-55, 2:1-18, 28-32, 38; John 1:1, 14; Romans 4:25).

Lo, How a Rose was originally written as a hymn about Mary.  In Church tradition, the Blessed Virgin has long been referred to as the, “Mystic Rose” (c.f. LSB 525.2, “Fruit of the mystic rose…”). This is possibly derived from Song of Songs/Solomon 2:1, in which the King’s bride, metaphorically the Church, calls herself a, “rose of Sharon.”1 When Michael Praetorius (c.1571-1621) adapted Lo, How a Rose for use in the Lutheran congregations, he changed the emphasis to Jesus as the Rose of the hymn.  Of note, Jesus is commonly referred to as, “Rose of Sharon.” It is unclear when the tradition began, though the title aptly fits.  Both the rose and Jesus are beautiful. Furthermore, the rose contains thorns and Jesus wore a crown of thorns at His Passion. Finally, roses are often given as gifts, and the salvation in Jesus is the greatest gift any of us could ever receive!2

The first two stanzas speak to the birth of Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, notably that of Isaiah (Isaiah 11:1-2).  The opening word, “Lo,” of the English translation of Theodore Baker (1851-1934), is an archaic way of saying, “Behold,” namely, “Pay attention,” emphasized by the use of the half-note to somewhat prolong the call.3 In response, we acknowledge that “with Mary we behold it,” namely the birth of Jesus our Savior (Matthew 1:20-21). He is the, “tender” (young) “stem” from the lineage (stump) of Jesse foretold by Isaiah.4 Furthermore, drawn from Luke 2:8-11, Church tradition has long held that Jesus’ birth took place, “when half-spent was the night,” namely at midnight, the darkest time of the night (c.f. John 1:4-5).

The third stanza, a nineteenth-century addition by Friedrich L. C. Layritz (1808-1859), points us squarely to the Cross as the ultimate reason for our Lord’s incarnation. His “fragrance tender” speaks to His sacrificial death for us (Ephesians 5:2).  His work on the Cross is “glorious splendor” (Psalm 111:3-4; John 12:23-24), dispelling the darkness everywhere (John 12:46; 2 Corinthians 4:6 and others).  On Calvary’s mountain, Jesus, “True man, yet very God,” saves us, “from sin and death” (Hebrews 2:14-15), “and lightens every load” (Matthew 11:28-30).

The fourth and final stanza ends the hymn with a prayer to our Savior, “who felt our human woe,” and “who dost our weakness know” (Hebrews 4:15), that He bring us at last “to the bright courts of heaven, and to the endless day,” namely eternal life in His presence (Revelation 21:22-22:5).  We pray this in certain confidence, knowing that He has promised this to us and is faithful to His promises (Hebrews 10:23).

The LSB has retained Praetorius’ musical setting for this hymn.  This past year has marked the 400th anniversary of his going to be with Jesus, and possibly the 450th anniversary of his first-article birth, namely his emergence from his mother’s womb.  Praetorius’ musical contributions were significant, and we commend to your reading Brian Lenharth’s excellent Michael Praetorius 1571-1621, a Biography; copies are available in the Narthex.

We rejoice that God has brought you into our presence today as together we behold His Son, our Rose, receiving His gifts of forgiveness, life and salvation. We pray His richest blessings on you this Christmastide and throughout the new year of His grace (LSB 896).

End notes

  1. See also Isaiah 35:1, where the Hebrew word chabatseleth is translated, “crocus” in the ESV; the KJV retains, “rose” in the Isaiah text.
  2. Bob Riggert, It’s Still All About Jesus, 2017-2018 Chapel Talks for Lutheran Schools (St. Louis: LCMS School Ministry, 2017) p. 38
  3. The German text reads, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen, literally, “It is a rose sprung up.”
  4. The Hebrew word for “stem,” or, “branch” in the Isaiah text, netzer, contains the prophecy of Jesus that, “He shall be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2:23, Gospel text for Christmas 2)

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