Text: Nicolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1782-1872) Tune: Johan Peter Emilius Hartmann (1805-1900)
1. Blossom as a rose appears
In the desert places,
Blossom when the golden year
Shines on saddened faces.
Glory crowns proud Lebanon;
Carmel’s heights has glory won
Flowers bloom in Sharon.
2. Sight is given to the blind,
Every eye shall glisten
All the mute their voices find;
All shall hear and listen.
Like the deer the lame shall leap.
Zion, never more shall weep.
Peace shall reign forever.
3. Thus Isaiah prophesied
In the days of sadness.
Ages passed; then far and wide,
Spread the news of gladness.
Christ is here; with us he stands
Changing with his lovely hand
Desert wastes to Eden.
4. Hail our King of God’s right hand,
Jesus and his Spirit.
Lead us to the promised land
We by faith inherit.
And though death is drawing near,
Words of life we all will hear
And shall sing God’s praises.
Tr. Søren Damsgaard Rodholm
A beautiful image: Jesus changes the desert into paradise. The Holy Spirit, in the original, is what works the miracle. Grundtvig taught, as do all Christians, but he, especially, how the Holy Spirit is what graces everything in our lives here on earth. The Spirit helps us look at something in life as we might look at a desert and see it blossoming with roses; to see the blind, deaf and mute being healed; to dance like David as he brought the ark into Jerusalem--echoed in John's dancing toward the Incarnate Word in Mary's womb, like the ark bearing God's Word. The joyful anticipation of Christ’s arrival is greeted with the same joy that we greet the Christ Child again this Christmas. And this greeting is not just for the Christ child in Bethlehem. It is the Christ child being born again in our hearts daily.
New birth is sometimes almost too much to bear when we are getting old. We get set in our ways, we want nothing to change, the old routines to continue, even as at Christmas we may struggle to keep them going. But even as we grow older, we are forced to face changes that can be catastrophic—having to face downsizing and moving from a home of fifty years, having to deal with physical and mental decline, watching the young we know suffer from illness and difficulties we can do nothing about. One feels powerless and downhearted because of that. As my father would say, facing something new, it is too much!
Christmas is for the young, we say. Yes, but it is also for those of us grown weary with the world and its increasing troubles. As we take part in the customs and routines of the time, we pray that we can feel, even in our old and weary hearts, that small shoot of hope, like the rose in the wilderness, youth coming to bloom in our hearts. Our God is not an old grandpa who sits in a rocking chair in heaven looking down in forgetfulness. He comes to us as a tiny child, bursting with life, who opens his arms to us and draws us toward him in the manger where, as the shepherds were, we are turned around and made new by his love.
When things seem dark and deadened by sin and hopelessness, Grundtvig teaches us that the Spirit enlivens everything. It leads us to the promised land with words of life. This isn’t just any baby being born—it is the Son of God. Life isn’t just a desert we are seeing—but a verdant garden of roses where Christ and the Spirit are bringing the desert wastes to flower, the "promised land." Pray now that our dry and dessicated hearts will blossom like roses in the desert during this holy time.
Grundtvig, who is known as the Poet of Pentecost, intended this hymn written in 1837, as a Pentecost hymn, but hymnal editors have always placed it in the Advent section of hymnals. Originally, it had fifteen stanzas. It did not quite make it to America, except, briefly, in the Danish-American hymnal 1927. It is one of the more popular in Denmark and can be found in most Nordic hymnals.
Hartmann, the composer of the Grundtvig hymn, was from an important family of musicians in Denmark. In addition to his music, he worked as a civil servant. He composed symphonies, operas, cantatas, works for organ and piano, as well as chamber music. Some people compare his musical style to Mendelssohn. He ended up as the organist at the Cathedral in Copenhagen.
Danish vokalensemble https://youtu.be/M1IOEP9LGOM
Musica Ficta with Bo Holten arrangement
Sankt Annæ Pigekor https://youtu.be/2KaanvrO5KU
For those thinking of Christmas gifts, you might consider the book Jesus the Harmony. It has a poem for every day of the year and Bible references for each poem that put Jesus in what has been called "the red thread of salvation." Many have been using it for daily devotions; others in group Bible studies.