Saturday, December 22, 2007

When Half-Spent Was the Night

Antiphon. When all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne. [Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15a]

Verse. The Lord is King, and hath put on glorious apparel; the Lord hath put on his apparel and girded himself with strength. [Psalm 93:1]
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost: As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.

Antiphon. When all things were in quiet silence and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne. [Introit for the First Sunday after Christmas]

The Bible is sometimes quite specific about the time of day when an event occurred – for example, Acts tells us that the descent of the Holy Spirit took place at “the third hour” – i.e., mid-morning. But where the Scriptures offer less detail, Christian imagination has filled in the gaps in symbolically appropriate ways. Thus, we usually think of the Resurrection as happening at sunrise: It is consistent with what the Gospels do tell us, and it is fitting that the return of the Light of the World should coincide with the dawning of the new day.

It is customary to depict Jesus’ birth as occurring at midnight. This is consistent with Luke’s report that the angels appeared to the shepherds by night to announce Christ’s birth. But midnight is the appropriate time for symbolic reasons, as well. Midnight is a pivotal moment, neither part of the old day nor of the new, but a time out of time. For this reason, people in some cultures have believed that the doors between worlds are open at midnight – thus the idea of midnight as “the witching hour,” when spirits can cross into our world.

The midnight of the Nativity was the pivotal point in all of history, the moment between BC and AD, neither part of the new era nor of the old. A momentary lull enveloped all of creation in stillness. The door between heaven and earth stood open as the mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished in Bethlehem. Then the silence was broken as the hymn of the angelic choir in heaven came to shepherds on earth.

Wishing you all a joyful Christmas and a happy 2008,

Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen

There is a rose-tree springing
forth from an ancient root,
as those of old were singing.
From Jesse came the shoot
that bore the blossom bright
amid the cold of winter,
when half-spent was the night.

This rose-tree, blossom-laden,
as spake Isaiah of yore,
is Mary, spotless Maiden,
for us this Flow’ret bore:
by God’s eternal will,
a little Babe she childeth,
yet Maid remaineth still.

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 shares our every load.

With heartfelt prayer we ask thee,
O Mary, sweetest Rose,
by this thy Flow’ret’s sorrows
– as his he bare our woes –
to come unto our aid:
that for him, fine and ready,
a dwelling-place be made.

[Four verses of a 22-verse Rheinland Marienleid as given in a manuscript prayer book (Trier, ca. 1587), of the Brother Conrad, O. Cart., Procurator of the Charterhouse at Mainz; translated cento 1986 by John H. Uhrig, after translations and versions by Harriet Reynolds Krauth Spaeth, 1875; Theodore Baker, 1894; and George Ratcliffe Woodward, 1904.]

I’m recycling this from 2002. That was a slow year for me and I didn’t have any news to share in my annual Christmas letter, so I wrote this instead. It is based on earlier versions going all the way back to ca. 1985, when I first shared something like this orally with a few friends around All Saints’ Day.


Sara K. said...

Lo How a Rose - is MY MOST FAVORITE Christmas hymn of all time and it seems that it is very rarely sung or played in the churhces I attend. Such a shame. THanks for this wonderful post! -S

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