The other day, we took the boys for a walk around a retreat center. Â Among the paths and statues and foliage, we noticed a stone angel, kneeling in the middle of a small slope. Â All around it were pruned rosebushes, shrubs in winter mode, and dead leaves.
“It’s Gabriel,” Matthew told us.
Looking at the angel more closely, we realized something: the hillside wasn’t barren after all. Â Right in front of the angel — right within the line of its gaze, in fact — was a single rose. Â It was the only flower blooming anywhere around, the only spot of color, vivid as flame.
“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. Â I thought of that verse as I looked at the rose. Â 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.
OfÂ 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. Â 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. Â That life — that Life — is what it’s all about.
And now, as then, an angel can help us find it.