Rose in winter

The other day, we took the boys for a walk around a retreat center.  Among the paths and statues and foliage, we noticed a stone angel, kneeling in the middle of a small slope.  All around it were pruned rosebushes, shrubs in winter mode, and dead leaves.

“It’s Gabriel,” Matthew told us.

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Looking at the angel more closely, we realized something: the hillside wasn’t barren after all.  Right in front of the angel — right within the line of its gaze, in fact — was a single rose.  It was the only flower blooming anywhere around, the only spot of color, vivid as flame.

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“And there shall come forth a rod out of the root of Jesse, and a flower shall rise up out of his root,” says Isaiah 11:1.   I thought of that verse as I looked at the rose.  I also remembered the words of a beautiful German carol, one of my father’s favorites:

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.

It’s been a busy December for me, one that hasn’t felt very contemplative or Advent-ish.  But seeing that single rose, blooming impossibly out of the dull brownish gray of the winter landscape, was a moment of pure grace.

Because at the heart of this busy season is a story: the story of a new life that appeared two thousand years ago, mid-winter, in the most unlikely of places.  That life — that Life — is what it’s all about.

And now, as then, an angel can help us find it.

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