Post # 274
December 1, 2019
Candle of Hope
Week ONE – December 1, 2019
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
(First in a series of 5 essays for Advent.)
On the first Sunday of Advent, I watch
as the priest lights one of the white candles
in the ring of aromatic pine.
“This first candle stands for hope,” he says.
“Traditionally, one white candle will be lighted for each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas, I’ll lite another candle of a different color, on Christmas Day. That’s the final day of lighting the Advent candles, and the last one will be a different color than the other four because it will symbolize the arrival of Christmas.
This practice has a long history.
In Germany, Lutheran’s were using a wreath with candles to celebrate each day of Advent
at least 300 years ago.
However, in northern Germany, long before the Christians began using this symbol, the early northern Germanic people thought of the ring, wheel, and evergreens as part of rituals that signified the love of God. The circle or wheel has no beginning and no end. Pre-Christian people embraced the ring to depict a cyclical worldview.
They symbolized their HOPE of survival through the long, challenging, and dark winter months. This hope pointed their attention to the coming of Spring.
Earlier, yet, the Greco-Romans celebrated this season and looked forward to the Light of Spring. Their celebration was a reminder that life is fleeting and flows by quickly. They marked the passing seasons at this time of year.
What does ADVENT mean?
For Christians, this is one of the most celebrated seasons, for it means that we are remembering an
of the birth of Jesus. (his coming, approach, and arrival)
It is an extended season of celebration.
The word Advent comes from the Latin, adventus.
On the weekend of the first day of Advent, in 2014, our youngest daughter, Ilsa, arrived in the late afternoon. She and her husband, Tony, drove the 6-hour trip from northern Kentucky to south-western Pennsylvania for a short one-day holiday visit.
As the late autumn light outside the north window was nearing its lowest indigo hue, we drank spicy hot coffee from sturdy pottery mugs. We sat at the round oak table in our dining room. The table looked festive because it has a crystal vase on it, and the vessel holds an array of flowers for our holiday.
Our vintage table has listened in on family conversations and provided a comfortable gathering place for talking and eating for over five decades. With our hands clasped around the steaming cups, we forgot about anything beyond the room as we giggled and shared family gossip and our passing thoughts.
I reached out to Ilsa as I handed her a small present. Before she arrived, I wrapped up two new poetry chapbooks in the thin white translucent paper. Ilsa unwrapped the books, looked them over, and she began reading poems from the pages of archival paper. This is one of the best aspects of a good chapbook – the delicate paper and the feeling of it in the hands. It’s sensual. Ilsa is a librarian, and she appreciates excellent books.
My daughter read a few poems from each chapbook. She read them aloud to me. We spoke about some images in the lyrics. We discovered unexpected humor and profound sadness; the poems held life and death on the pages. Poems are created to come to life when reading them aloud.
How good it feels to negotiate a poem together!
The flowers on our holiday table reminded me of how the first Christians wanted to depict faith and hope in the next world, Paradise. Early believers in Jesus chose to use the pine wreath and flowers as symbols of their eternal hope. The most illustrated flower in Christian iconography is the rose. Sometimes, lilies. Yet, a rose has been a symbol that leads us to also think about love. In the art works of the Nativity, Mary is nearly always depicted with Jesus on her lap because he is the rose promised in the ancient texts and in the songs through the ages.
The rose is an elegant flower, so soft to the touch, like the most delicate velvet and exquisite symmetry. Rose petals form around a center, in a tight bud. As it grows, a rosebud expands and opens eventually to expose a halo of tiny, delicate flowers that encircle a center ring. Look deeply into the center of a rose. The mystery is there to be found – like a hidden treasure. The most precious and spectacular part of the rose lies in the center.
A rose has sparked the imagination of poets, writers, artists, and lovers. In 1913, the avant-garde modernist poet Gertrude Stein wrote this sentence that appears in her 1922 book, Mention of a Rose.
“Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”
Gertrude Stein realized there is simply no other word that can describe a rose, except that it is a rose. Everything else fails miserably in our attempts to portray the most recognized flower in the world, and it carries a universal message to people of all cultures.
For instance, the garden variety of roses have been cultivated for over 5,000 years. One can find roses in the gardens that were tended by the people who lived in the Roman Empire. Today, visitors to Italy can walk in glorious rose gardens created during the days of the Empire.
Every year my sister, Patti, tends her flower gardens from early Spring to the first frosts of late autumn. As she took me on a tour of her flower beds one afternoon, she grinned with pride when she pointed out her roses. Every flower gardener I have ever known has loved their rose bushes, and each one has shown tremendous pride in the beauty of the flowers on a rose bush. Last August, Patti brought me a birthday bouquet she had created from her flower beds – and the prize flower in the bouquet was a very stunning pink rose! I think no matter how much a gardener loves all the flowers they have blooming; it is the rose bushes that seem to elicit the most pride and happiness to them. Roses are the dazzling queens of the flower bids. They seem to be the proverbial “icing on the cake.”
Ah, yes, I contend that the rose is Queen of all Flowers!
I am sure of it! As you begin doing some research on the “rose” as an iconic image, you will soon find references to Mary, the Queen of Heaven and Earth. She is often depicted with a rose in her hand, or surrounded by roses. Roses are garlands in Christian art and sculpture, and roses are used to encircle the head of the Queen of Heaven. Roses become a halo at times in Christian lore as well as in pre-Christian mythology.
The image of a rose is also used to describe Mary’s son, Jesus Christ, who is also called a rose. King Solomon described Jesus as “the rose of Sharon.” You can find this particular reference in The Song of Solomon, 2:1. There are many other such references.
In a popular German Christmas song, these words are from an Eighteenth-Century poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe:
“es ist ein Ros entsprungen.”
The German title, translated to English, is “A Rose has sprung.”
You may recognize this Christmas song as “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” or “A Spotless Rose.” The song is a Protestant Christmas Carol and a Catholic Marian hymn that originated in Germany. I remember it from my childhood when we all stood to sing carols together at the small Methodist Church in the village of Wurtemburg, where my ancestors have lived for nearly three centuries. The Rose, in this song, is Jesus who was promised long before his miraculous birth by the prophet Isaiah. This song is not at all about the rose as a flower, but the rose and the exquisite aspects of a rose, are symbolic of the Saviour.
“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.”
(Note: From the final stanza of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”
Link below to German version by The Kings Singers.
Link to English Version: Alex Stephens, multi-track acapella version:
Lynda McKinney Lambert. Copyright 2014. Revised 2019. All rights reserved.
This article is provided through the courtesy of Lynda McKinney Lambert
NOTE: Part 2 of “Candle of Hope” will be published on Wednesday, December 4, 2019.
Link to it will be provided at that time.