How a Wordy and Kind of Obscure Christmas Song Helped Put this November into Perspective

November has felt a bit bleaker than usual this year. My friends at Standing Rock have been water-cannoned in the middle of a freezing night. White supremacists are moving into the country’s capital city. I’m struggling with living in Philadelphia, so far from my family. It’s been hard to connect to a sense of peace, hope, to see justice at work. The urge to isolate and give myself over to utter despair is strong.

This week at the Ridge Avenue Sunday meeting, we sang a song song that’s hundreds of years old, written by a dude who died on his fiftieth birthday, with awkward phrasing and kind of bizarre imagery. It’s hipster-fodder enough that Sufjan Stevens recorded it with banjos and did a bit of an ironic choral rendition at a concert once:

“Lo, how a rose e’er blooming” was never on my top ten favorite Christmas carols list. But I think it ought to be, especially for those of us who are struggling now. Listen:

What we have here is some encouragement in dark times:

Look at the beautiful rose that is blooming!
It came from an unlikely source—have you seen Jesse’s family tree? Prostitutes and heathens!
But good things are coming up from these surprising places, even in the short, dark, cold days of winter.

And here’s the thing: we’re part of a bigger story, a long story.
A story in which God makes a way out of no way
again and again and again.

The days are dark, and the weight of the world is too much to bear.
Jesus was born into a bleak time like this,
he knows darkness and cold and unlikely hope.

Look, the world can be unbearable, and some scary and sad and really unjust things are happening on our blocks, in our city, in our country, in our world. There’s no denying that reality. But I’m going to try to not let those facts dominate the spirit in me. Because my other reality is that Jesus sees and understands darkness and blooms through it. Martin Luther King, Jr. understood this, I think, when he wrote these words from behind the bars of an Albany, Georgia jail:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

So bring it on winter, I’m ready for you.

Sarah Withrow King, writing

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