A Rose in Winter

TCChristmasChristmas is “the most wonderful time of the year.” I love its tastes, smells, sights and sounds. Each season begins with a resolution: Watch the eating this year! But how can I pass over my wife’s scrumptious baking, shared with office colleagues? Then there’s Christmas dinner itself—the juicy, delectable turkey, mashed potatoes, hot gravy and our traditional red-velvet cake, lovingly baked to perfection. It’s all so tantalizing. Resisting the temptation is easier said than done.

Not only the savoury food, but delightful aromas in the air bring peace and joy beyond description. The fresh scent of pine trees prompts us to take that deep and enjoyable breath. Gentle snowflakes descending on a cool, crisp evening remind us that Yuletide is an extraordinary time of year. The smells of hot apple cider and Christmas cookies as friends and families gather to sing, laugh and enjoy each other’s company cause us to reflect on what is genuinely important in life.

The sights of Christmas are central to the celebration. Picture the brightly coloured blinking lights of city streets, snowmen greeting all who pass by, children on Santa’s knee shrieking with excitement or fear. Visualize people dressed in their very best for a party, brilliantly decorated store windows, musicians playing at one of our Army kettles. Christmas is, of course, more than a month-long party; it is the celebration of the year, the festival of the ages. Christmas is the birthday party for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords—our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

More than any other holiday or festival, it is the glorious Christmas music that is refreshing and inspiring. In addition to songs like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, the celebrated Christmas carols convey peace, joy and warmth to the heart. One of my favourite carols, Lo, How a Rose Ee’er Blooming, is heard infrequently—though it was sung in the Academy Award winning movie Love Story (1970). I am deeply moved by the insightful words by this anonymous, late 15th-century German poet. The verse was wedded to the melodious, haunting tune by Michael Praetorius in 1609. When singing this carol, I envision the beautiful deep-red rose in all its splendour, and even inexplicably smell its matchless fragrance. The rose in this stunning carol speaks of Jesus. He is the infant born to Mary, the child who has become our redeemer and friend. He is the “Rose of Sharon” (Song of Songs 2:1). He is the “beautiful one” (Song of Songs 2:13)—the long-awaited Messiah.

The first and last verse of this magnificent poem complete the all-embracing Christmas message. The carol begins with the tenderness of new life in the physical and spiritual realms. The final verse celebrates the good news that Christ is with us. He knows us intimately and will remain with us always.

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 floweret bright, amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

O Saviour, child of Mary, who felt our human woe,
O Saviour, King of Glory, who dost our weakness know;
Bring us at length we pray to the bright courts of Heaven,
And to the endless day.

May the tastes, smells, sights and sounds of this sacred season bring you immense joy and lasting peace. May you laugh, sing, smile, share and love. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given…. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Above all, may you receive God’s wonderful, amazing love in a new and profound way—from now through “endless days.”

Have a happy, blessed and Christ-filled Christmas!

francis_william_cmsr_smlCommissioner William W. Francis is the Territorial Commander of The Salvation Army Canada and Bermuda Territory. His wife, Commissioner Marilyn Francis, is the Territorial President for Women’s Ministries. Commissioners Francis have two adult children, Captain William Marshall and Susan Marjorie, plus six grandchildren.

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