Yesterday morning in worship, when I gathered with the children of the church on these front steps of the sanctuary, I asked them how they thought it feels not to know if there is enough food in the house to feed the family. We were dedicating the non-perishable food collected by our congregation and donated to the Salvation Army for families that need assistance, and I wanted to engage them in what these donations would mean to the people who received them. The children offered beautifully empathetic answers – sad, worried, confused, scared. It went about how I thought it would go. Right up until one of our fourth graders declared, “Angry!”
Last week as we began worship, I took a few minutes to speak to the horrors of the white supremacist rally and counter-demonstrations that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia that weekend. The news and the shock many people were feeling was still so very raw. I promised that while our worship was not changing in light of the events that had been taking place over the last 36 hours or so, we would be revisiting it in the weeks and months to come. We are this morning, and we have to continue to as we move forward.
A few years ago when I was updating my Advent and Christmas music collection I discovered a carol I had never heard before. It struck me from the first hearing because it features Joseph prominently, and Joseph doesn’t get a lot of play time in Christmas carols.
“The Cherry Tree Carol” is a folk carol with a murky history, as it goes with folk carols. Some date it back to the 15th century, but others claim it’s from the 18th. The roots of the story in the carol are actually more ancient than any of this, though, coming from the first few centuries of the church’s existence, from a gospel account that is not contained in our Scriptures. In the carol Mary and Joseph are traveling to Bethlehem where she will eventually deliver her child. Along the way the expectant mother Mary is hungry and asks Joseph to stop and get her a cherry from an orchard they are passing, for the baby. Joseph snaps back bitterly, telling her to let the child’s father get him a cherry to eat. Continue reading