Text: Gracia Grindal Tune: Rusty Edwards
To A Maid Engaged To Joseph, The Angel Gabriel Came.
Fear Not, The Angel Told Her, I Come To Bring Good News,
Good News I Come To Tell You, Good News, I Say, Good News.
For You Are Highly Favored By God The Lord Of All,
Who Even Now Is With You. You Are On Earth Most Blest,
You Are Most Blest, Most Blessed, God Chose You, You Are Blest!
But Mary Was Most Troubled To Hear The Angel's Word.
What Was The Angel Saying? It Troubled Her To Hear,
To Hear The Angel's Message, It Troubled Her To Hear.
Fear Not, For God Is With You, And You Shall Bear A Child.
His Name Shall Be Called Jesus, Gods Offspring From On High.
And He Shall Reign Forever, Forever Reign On High.
How Shall This Be? Said Mary, I Am Not Yet A Wife.
The Angel Answered Quickly, The Power Of The Most High
Will Come Upon You Shortly, Your Child Will Be Gods Child.
As Mary Heard The Angel, She Wondered At His Words.
Behold, I Am Your Handmaid, She Said Unto Her God.
So Be It; I Am Ready According To Your Word.
This Sunday we hear the story of the Incarnation from Joseph’s side in Matthew. While this hymn focuses on Mary, Joseph is at least in the title, although some hymn committees changed it to “To a Maid whose Name was Mary.” I don’t particularly mind in this case, hymn committees are devoted to improving texts and making them speak to the current culture.
There is much about Joseph that we admire although we know very little about him. What interests me as I grow more familiar with the story is that he is a dreamer like his namesake Joseph, son of Jacob. Every time we see him, he is dreaming and hearing words of comfort and direction from God’s angel. It is a remarkable thing to see him listening. He is obedient, and a perfect example of the sort of ordinary and faithful people God uses to get great things done.
Even before he hears the angel’s words, he has already shown us that he is a just man. Although he could have been cruel to Mary, he has decided to quietly deal with the situation which is a scandal in their small community.
Joseph has no time to deliberate about his new life after the angel has left. He has to do many things immediately and will do much to give Mary and her baby life.
The old Cherry Tree carol depicts Joseph as still angry about Jesus, at the same time, able to read the miracles coming from his Lord and he does what is required. Mary is still very young and needs protection, something he as an older man can give her. In loving her he has signed up for far more than he imagined when he asked Mary’s father for her hand in marriage. The carol is filled with surprises. Joseph's life is utterly turned around when the angel comes to him in his dreams. It happens to all of us when we meet the Lord. Praise God!
The Cherry-tree Carol
Joseph was an old man, and an old man was he,
And he married Mary, the Queen of Galilee.
When Joseph was married, and Mary home had brought,
Mary proved with child, and Joseph knew it not.
Joseph and Mary walked through a garden gay,
Where the cherries they grew upon every tree.
O then bespoke Mary, with words both meek and mild:
‘O gather me cherries, Joseph, they run so in my mind.’
And then replied Joseph, with words so unkind:
‘Let him gather thee cherries that got thee with child.’
O then bespoke our Saviour, all in his mother's womb:
‘Bow down, good cherry-tree, to my mother's hand.’
The uppermost sprig bowed down to Mary's knee;
‘Thus you may see, Joseph, these cherries are for me.’
‘O eat your cherries, Mary, O eat your cherries now;
O eat your cherries, Mary, that grow upon the bough.’
As Joseph was a walking, he heard an angel sing:
‘This night shall be born our heavenly king.
‘He neither shall be born in housen nor in hall,
Nor in the place of Paradise, but in an ox's stall.
‘He neither shall be clothed in purple nor in pall,
But all in fair linen, as were babies all.
‘He neither shall be rocked in silver nor in gold,
But in a wooden cradle, that rocks on the mould.
‘He neither shall be christened in white wine nor red,
But with fair spring water, with which we were christened.
Then Mary took her young son, and set him on her knee:
‘I pray thee now, dear child, tell how this world shall be.’
‘O I shall be as dead, mother, as the stones in the wall;
O the stones in the street, mother, shall mourn for me all.
‘And upon a Wednesday my vow I will make,
And upon Good Friday my death I will take.
‘Upon Easter-day, mother, my rising shall be;
O the sun and the moon shall uprise with me.
‘The people shall rejoice, and the birds they shall sing,
To see the uprising of the heavenly king.'
HYMN INFO I wrote this text as a part of a collection of hymns for my class on hymn writing at Luther Seminary. Rusty Edwards was in the class and he started setting my texts. Suddenly, they were attractive to publishers. A surprise. Rusty had not composed hymns before, but quickly learned the conventions involved in writing hymns tunes. He has mastered the craft over the years and is now doing very well. The Cherry Tree Carol is one of the oldest in English. It is a dramatic retelling of a legend about Mary and Joseph that could be imagined but for which there is no biblical source except for the Savior's prophecy about his life on earth.
LINKS Singapore Children’s Choir https://youtu.be/KXSxfJ0nQsc
Schola Cantorum of St. Peter’s in Chicago In the Loop https://youtu.be/CxRHmKchJAY
John Wesley Slider https://youtu.be/gC1Kv7WxVQY
Organ improvisation on hymn https://youtu.be/9I5OaMhx_IA
Cherry Tree Carol by Ely Cathedral Choir
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.