A Beautiful Rose from a Rotten Tree

Everyone has a beloved Christmas hymn–I mean the classic, Christmas songs about “baby Jesus.” Even if you aren’t a devoted Christian, you have found yourself happily singing “Joy to the World” or “O Holy Night” because of the rapturous power in these songs.

Christmas carols and hymns like these often drip with deeper theological meaning than the “regular” songs we sing the other eleven months of the year. Most, if not all, of the classic Christ-centered “Christmas songs” were not written simply to be sung on or around December 25. They, like all other hymns, are instructional in nature. That is, they were written so that congregations would be taught sound doctrine as they sung them. The incarnation of the Son of God that we celebrate during our modern Christmas season is a part of sound doctrine and therefore Christians needed to be taught about it. That is why “Christmas” hymns, as we know them, exist.

One of my favorite Christmas hymns is not typically sung on the radio or during the CMA Country Christmas. It is ”Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming.” As I’ve already alluded to, this hymn, like others, is not simply a “Christmas song.” It is designed to teach on the theme of the “righteous Branch” spoken of by the prophets (see Isaiah 4:2; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:1-7; 33:14-16). God promised David that his offspring would rule the world forever (2 Sam. 7). The prophets pick up on this theme and teach that from David’s family tree would come a Branch that would rule the world in righteousness and justice. That Branch, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth, son of David, who would save his people from their sins and reign over them forever.

This hymn has underwent a lot of changes over the centuries. I’m nerdy, so stuff like that interests me (though I’m not a hymnologist or a musician). For all you nerds out there, you too can compare the all the versions and differences.

The original English translation sticks closest to the writing of the prophets. Read it. Learn from it. Sing it. Enjoy it. Enjoy Jesus in it. How? Let this song point you to the truth of the gospel: just as the prophets foretold, a righteous Branch has sprouted, a bright flower, from a rotten tree of sinners, who from death will save us and share our every load!

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.

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 to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

O Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God,
From sin and death now save us,
And share our every load.