The Advent Candle for Week ONE: Hope
I sat quietly in my living room as I watched a Christmas program on television. The focus of the program was on Advent since this day marked the first day of Advent in the Christian calendar. A priest lit the first candle. “This first candle stands for hope,” he said. Traditionally, one candle will be lighted for each of the four Sundays preceding Christmas Day. There will be one candle that is different in color than the other four. That one candle will be lit last – it will symbolize the arrival of Christmas.
We know that the German 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. This is a cyclical world view embraced by pre-Christian people. In this way, they symbolized their HOPE of survival through the long, difficult and dark winter months. This hope pointed their attention to the coming of Spring, life, and light. And, even before this time, the Greco-Romans celebrated this season as well, looking forward to the light of spring. It was a reminder that life is fleeting and flows by quickly and so they marked the passing seasons.
On the weekend of the first day of Advent, our youngest daughter, Ilsa, arrived in the late afternoon. She and her husband drove the 6 hour trip from Kentucky to Pennsylvania for a short holiday visit. This visit was just for one day because she had to be at her job on Monday morning.
The old, round table in the dining room has listened in on family conversations and provided a comfortable, familiar gathering place for talking and eating. The warm, spicy aroma of fresh coffee drifted from the kitchen. As the late autumn light outside the northern window was nearing its lowest indigo hue, we drank coffee from sturdy pottery mugs. Our hands clasped around the steaming cups and we forgot about anything beyond the room we were in as we laughed together and shared family gossip and our passing thoughts.
I gave Ilsa a small present. It was two new chapbooks of poetry, wrapped carefully in thin white translucent paper. Ilsa unwrapped the books, looked them over and she began turning the pages slowly. She read a few poems from each book. She read them aloud to me, and we enjoyed them together – we spoke about some images in the poems. we discovered unexpected humor and profound sadness; the poems held life and death on the pages. How good it felt to negotiate the poems together! We both love literature and books and have enjoyable conversations about the things we love.
When the first Christians wanted to depict faith and hope in the next world, Paradise, they chose to use the symbol of flowers; the most depicted flower was the rose, and, sometimes lilies. A rose has been a symbol that leads us to think about love.
The rose is an elegant flower, so soft to the touch, ;ike the most delicate velvet and exquisite symmetry. Rose petals form around a center, in a tight bud. As it grows, a rose bud expands and opens eventually to expose a halo of tiny, delicate flowers that encircle a center ring. When one looks deeply into the center of a rose, 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 avantgarde poet, Gertrude Stein wrote this sentence, “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.”The line appears in her 1922 book Mention of a Rose.
Clearly, 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. Research will disclose that 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 that were 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 seems to be the proverbial “icing on the cake.”
Ah, yes, I contend that the rose is Queen of all Flowers! I am certain 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 used as garlands in art and sculpture and roses are used to encircle the Queen of Heaven. Roses are a halo at times in Christian lore as well as in pre-Christian mythology. Mary’s son, Jesus Christ, is symbolized as 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 as well.
In a popular German Christmas song, these words are from an Eighteenth Century poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; “es ist ein Ros entsprungen.” This can be translated in English to “A Rose has sprung.”
You may recognize this Christmas song as “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” or “A Spotless Rose.” This 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 my village.
Cllick here to listen to this song in English:
Click here to hear the song in German: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xA4pBDNZDx0
I sat down to consider the pleasure of a visit with my daughter. Below you will read a poem about her visit and something we did together. Sometimes, it is unusual when we think of a child teaching a parent a lesson of some sort. But, here in my poem, a daughter teaches me a lesson in a unique way.
This poem, “When My Daughter Cuts the Roses,” marks the beginning of Advent in our home. The bouquet of flowers on my dining room table today reminds me that now is the Season of Hope. As I listen to the latest news from around the world, it feels like the whole world is longing for hope right now – Oh, I know! It does appear the the entire planet is in deep distress. The EARTH could be laboring for the birth of HOPE. Perhaps there is a longing for hope in the souls of Earth’s people and all of NATURE.
On this First Week of Advent we can choose to keep our thoughts and our eyes focused on HOPE as we light that first candle. There is great beauty in the symbols of the weekly lighting of the Advent candles. This week, we pause to embrace the message of the ROSE and the coming of the LIGHT, who is promised from ancient times. Ah, yes! As I complete the writing of this essay, I am hearing a tune in my mind.
” 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.” (Final stanza of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming”
“When my Daughter Cuts the Roses”
My daughter looked
At the bouquet of fresh roses
noticed two of them were drooping.
“Let me show you how to trim the roses
so they stay fresh and strong.” she said.
Her hands held the roses firmly
one-by-one, trimmed off extra leaves
“These will make the water stink,” she said.
She found scissors in the drawer
put the roses in a bowl of tepid water
held each stem under water
sliced them all, diagonally –
“As I cut the rose under the water,
little bubbles of air come to the surface.
Now, when the rose inhales
it will only breathe water into it,
it won’t fill up with air.
The living water inside the stems
gives longer life to each rose.”
She carried the freshened flowers
In the tall glass vase
back to the center of the dining room table
darkest crimson buds, sunny yellow petals,
deep green fern leaves
and a frilly white carnation.
Lynda McKinney Lambert. Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.