Tuesday, December 14, 2010

When Half-Spent Was The Night

contributed by Nelson

The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. ~ John 1:4

As many of the posts of recent days have shown, the image of light piercing darkness is one that many of us like to dwell on during Advent. I, too, am drawn to it like a magnet, and there are good reasons for this.

For one thing, it's visually beautiful. A simple candle lighting up a dark place can have a mesmerizing effect, fixing me to my seat, focusing my gaze on its flickering glow. It also reminds me of our universal need for light -- its energy and warmth; also its ability to guide and reveal that which is hidden or unclear. And it is a reminder that, spiritually speaking, our 'default' state is darkness, but light is always available to us in the presence of the Spirit. The penetrating power of grace shines brighter because it finds us in the darkest spaces.

About four hundred years ago, somebody wrote a hymn which draws its imagery from an ancient prophecy about a new Branch from David's family that would bear fruit from an old root (Isaiah 11:1). The hymnwriter depicts this Branch as a Rose, which performs its light- and life-giving action when it seems least likely: in the dead of winter, in the middle of the night.

Only a few years ago, inspired by both the poetic truth and the melodic beauty of this hymn, I arranged a version of it for my jazz trio. You may wish to meditate on these words while listening to the music. And, if you're so inclined, feel free to add a comment about what you hear in it.

Listen and/or download your own copy here.

Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming
from tender stem has sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming
as saints of old have sung.
It came, a floweret bright,
amid the cold of winter,
when half-spent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it,
the Rose I have in mind.
With Mary we behold it,
the virgin mother kind.
To show God's love aright,
she bore too us a Savior,
when half-spent was the night.

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