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ADVENT DEVOTIONAL DECEMBER 9: A CAROL FOR JOSEPH

It was December 2008, and we were days from welcoming Duncan into the world. One of the final scheduled church events was a Wednesday night carol sing. It was our first Christmas with the new Celebrating Grace Hymnal when a curious youth requested the carol “The Hands That First Held Mary’s Child.” As we sang through these verses, I found myself overcome with emotion and incapable of singing. I was captivated. Troeger’s poetry perfectly marries the solemnity of the KINGSFOLD tune in a carol that sings of the unsung hero of the Christmas Story — Joseph. This young carpenter sacrificed his reputation to trust Mary and the angel in his dreams to embark on a difficult journey. What thoughts might he have had as they traveled? Did he envision his son learning the trade, reading God’s word, and following the Jewish customs? Was he anticipating, like I was, that moment of holding my son for the first time? I love the final charge: “Let us, O Lord, not only hold the child who’s born today, but charged with faith may we be bold to follow in His way.” 

 

The hands that first held Mary’s child were hard from working wood.

From boards they sawed and planed and filed and splinters they withstood.

This day they gripped no tool of steel, they drove no iron nail,

But cradled from the head to heel our Lord, newborn and frail.

 

When Joseph marveled at the size of that small breathing frame,

And gazed upon those bright new eyes and spoke the infant’s name,

The angel’s words he once had dreamed poured down from heaven’s height,

And like the host of stars that beamed blessed earth with welcome light.

 

“This child shall be Emmanuel, not God upon the throne,

But God with us, Emmanuel, as close as blood and bone.”

The tiny form in Joseph’s palms confirmed what he had heard,

And from his heart rose hymns and psalms for heaven’s human word.

 

The tools that Joseph laid aside a mob would later lift

And use with anger, fear, and pride to crucify God’s gift.

Let us, O Lord, not only hold the child who’s born today,

But charged with faith may we be bold to follow in His way.

 

Carey Cannon is Minister of Music at South Main. He is married to Janet and they have two children: Caroline and Duncan.


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