(Note: This is the next to last rose meditation for 2008. The last one is in the Christmas category: Snow and Christmas: Peace on Earth)
In the Responsory for Morning Prayer for weekdays of the first two weeks of Advent, we pray each day:
“Your light will come, Jerusalem; the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty. You will see his glory within you; the Lord will dawn on you in radiant beauty.”
The prophecy of Isaiah 33:17 says, "Your eyes will see the king in his beauty; they will behold a land that stretches afar."
The carol "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" reflects the radiant beauty of Christ's coming, symbolized by a rose. "This Flower, whose fragrance tender with sweetness fills the air, Dispels with glorious splendor the darkness everywhere."
The older carol, "There Is No Rose of Such Virtue", speaks of Mary as the rose, rather than Christ, a reference to the beauty of her virtues.
the Final Document of its Plenary Assembly, in 2006, the Pontifical Council for Culture said, “For the believer, beauty transcends the aesthetic and finds its archetype in God.”
All Christian artwork, they said, leads along a path that reveals the
meaning, origin and end of our terrestrial journey, a passage that “becomes real in Jesus Christ, who is Himself ‘the way, the truth and the life,’ (Jn 14, 6) the ‘complete truth.’ (Jn 16, 13)”. That is true of every beautiful carol sung in Advent and Christmas in that the beauty of art and music finds its archetype in God. In the rose carols, the beauty of the rose as symbolic of the birth of Christ and the virtue of Mary specifically point to the beauty of God and the beauty of holiness.
The beauty of Advent and Christmas, in decorations and music, express joy in the birth of Jesus. The beauty of nature at this time of the year, seen in the snow scenes in Christmas cards and in the references to a winter night in Christmas carols, often express the peacefulness of a winter snow as well as the precarious predicament of the Holy Family, with no room at the inn.
"Snow had fallen, snow on snow" from "In the Bleak Midwinter", and "The snow lay on the ground . . . on Christmas night" from the carol of the same name, also "See Amid the Winter Snow" reflect the same sense of winter as seen in the much older carol "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming". It is both cold and peaceful, both fragile and beautiful. References to snow and the cold of winter remember the birth of Jesus who was laid in a manger in a cave, a birth to a poor family that was dangerous and at the same time joyful. While historians and exegetes will tell us that there would have been no snow in Bethlehem at the time of the Lord's birth, the tradition of snow in manger scenes in December reflects the Holy Family's plight as well as the purity of fresh snow.
The beauty of winter scenes carries into contemporary Christmas carols, both religious and secular. "White Christmas", "Winter Wonderland", and "Let It Snow!" are just a few of the many examples. Those songs sometimes celebrate the joy of Christmas snow more than the birth of Christ. They still express the joy of Christmas and the beauty of nature that reminds us of the beauty of the Nativity and joy at the birth of the Lord.
It is no coincidence that Christmas is associated with midnight, while Easter is associated with sunrise. In describing Christ's birth, St. Luke's Gospel describes a scene of joy and beauty to shepherds outside at night: "The glory of the Lord shone around them . . . I bring you news of a great joy." St. Matthew's Gospel also describes things that happened at night, including an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream to tell him what would happen, and the Magi seeing a star and going to worship the newborn Christ. With Christmas in late December, Europeans associated the hazards and beauty of a midnight snow with these events. The radiant beauty of Christ's birth is reflected in snowy Christmas scenes and snow flocked Christmas trees. The radiant beauty of holiness is seen in the purity of fresh snow and in the symbolism of a rose.