The fourth Sunday of Advent is a celebration of love. This 15th century carol beautifully portrays the gift of a baby, the mother who bears him and the sweet fragrance that fills the air upon his birth.

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 flow’ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

We are reminded that this is an act of love that brings us the fulfillment of a prophecy of old.

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 us a Savior,
When half spent was the night

We are reminded that this is a moment where our humanity and God meet – become one. This union offering an opportunity to bring light into a dark world.

Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere.
True man, yet very God,
From Sin and death he saves us,
And lightens every load.

This is a carol that has been sung by both Catholic and Protestant traditions for hundreds of years. There is some variation in the word ‘rose’ in the original German. Some versions use Ros’ as in the flower itself, a mystical kind of representation of Mary. Others use the word Reis which means a branch and speaks to the tree of Jesse, or his lineage. Either way, we are talking about a beautiful tribute to the belief that Jesus was born in a context. In a history of a people waiting for a saviour, birthing this saviour and then welcoming him and all he represented. This is not so different from what many of us experience as we welcome new lives into our families or communities and watch them blossom and grow.

Can the example of this generous love carry us through this week? Whether we are with those we love or not?   I don’t know.  Because although these are beautiful words, they are not the whole story. I think we can assume Mary’s way was not so easy given the circumstances of her pregnancy. There were certainly many challenges facing this tiny baby, many that would not have felt filled with love. I think we know that countless people find themselves feeling unloved, unable to love or missing loved ones during this season. Maybe that’s why the tune of this carol is so melancholy. Yes, the love displayed in God’s gift can be seen as glorious, but the space in which we accept that gift may not be. So I share this haunting love song. May its words help lighten the load, or simply accompany you as you continue to carry whatever life has given you.