The Mystical Rose

A hobgoblin, one of the very worse, once made “a looking-glass which had the power of making everything good or beautiful that was reflected in it almost shrink to nothing, while everything that was worthless and bad looked increased in size and worse than ever” (1-2). So begins Hans Christian Anderson’s fable, The Snow Queen. Like the Fourth Sunday of Advent, it tells a story of redemption and a woman is its hero. 

In Anderson’s tale, the goblin’s mirror breaks into many pieces, which only spread its effect. “Some persons even got a fragment of the looking-glass in their hearts, and this was very terrible, for their hearts became cold like a lump of ice” (4).

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A boy named Kay succumbs to a fragment of the glass. Seduced by it, he is led away by the Snow Queen, far to the north. Ice is a striking image of sin, one used by C.S. Lewis in Narnia and Dante in his Inferno. Sin can’t cancel God’s creation, which is true, and good, and beautiful. What it can do is to distort it, to keep it from its own nature, like ice that freezes a flowing river, though even then, below, warmer currents of grace continue to flow.

Little Kay becomes the Snow Queen’s captive, but he is saved by the love and devotion of his friend, the girl Gerda. They had been playmates, among the roses that grew between the homes of their two families. Through seven stories, the maiden searches the world for Kay. Finding him in the Snow Queen’s palace

Gerda wept hot tears, which fell on his breast, and penetrated into his heart, and thawed the lump of ice, and washed away the little piece of glass which had stuck there. Then he looked at her, and she sang—
“Roses bloom and cease to be,
But we shall the Christ-child see.”
Then Kay burst into tears, and he wept so that the splinter of glass swam out of his eye (86).
 

Gerda’s faithful, intense love saves Kay. Her compassion ends his captivity. Woman redeems man.

During the Advent and Christmas seasons, the woman, Mary of Nazareth, appears many times. Very early in the life of the Church, the new year began to open with the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. In later centuries came the celebration of the Immaculate Conception and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. 

Many have suggested that the Mary completes the Christ in Catholic life. Humanity exists in two fundamental forms: man and woman. And so the Virgin becomes the feminine face of the divine. Some find this notion offensive, because it seems, once again, to relegate woman to secondary status. Man saves; woman only cooperates. The corollary of woman tempts; man succumbs.

Yet there is a duality greater than that of the sexes at work here. The core of Christmas is the mystery of the Incarnation. In Jesus Christ, the God born into our midst, humanity discovers itself to be ordered toward, created for, life with God. In Christ, the creator enters the creature; in Mary, the earthly receives the divine.

Deeper than woman complementing man, Mary is human, as utterly particular and fragile as any one of us. Was her great “yes” filled with the certainly of Christ’s divinity? Or was it uttered in the darkness of a faith that consented without full comprehension? We cannot say, yet it was her decision, her compassion that made possible the Christ. 

Sexuality is not a peripheral part of our identity. Not something we change—in increasing order of difficulty—like an occupation, a name, or a culture. If Christ came among us as a man, he did so assuming the sheer particularity and fragility of what it means to be any one of us. But Christ comes for all of us. All and everything good that each one of us is, or ever will be, is ordered toward completion in Christ. He is incarnate savior and exemplar. Who we are and what we shall be.

Until all of creation is gathered into Christ, much of it, much of us, remains frozen, caught in the stultifying effect of sin. We remain, within very ourselves, divided. We flow in the grace of Christ, yet we remain frozen in the stillness of sin. 

But not this woman. Her virginity proclaims her integrity, a wholeness much greater than the physical. She bespeaks a complete “yes” to God. Body and soul, she belongs to the Christ. The best of us are roses who come with thorns. We bloom and die. She is, in the words of devotion, the mystical rose, the creature who receives the creator.

Gerda sings a great song of hope to Kay. It frees his frozen heart. Mary makes the verse ring true. The victory of life over death begins in her heart.

Roses bloom and cease to be,
But we shall the Christ-child see.
 

2 Samuel 7:1-5, 8b-12, 14a,     16 Romans 16: 25-27     Luke 1: 26-38

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