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The Cherry Tree Carol

by Jan Ackerson  
8/09/2011 / Holidays

When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he
He married Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee

I weary of dreams and angelsI long for the days when simple carpentry imparted the simple pleasures of shavings and sweat. But Mary came to me some months ago with her wild tales of an angel and God's holy presence. Poor child, I thought, and began to ponder how I might break our engagement.

And then my own visitationor was it a dream? That changed my mind, all rightstill, I grimace when men snicker as Mary walks by. More than once I have heard the names they call her, and my defense of her sounds ridiculous even to my ears. Was it really an angel, or is that apparition simply the story of a frightened child who succumbed to a game of touch-me-touch-me-not? I wonder

And one day as they went walking, all in the garden green
There were berries and cherries as thick as may be seen

Then Mary said to Joseph, so meek and so mild
"Joseph, gather me some cherries for I am with child"

It was a particularly foul mood that gripped me as I guided Mary through the orchards of Nahum, my curmudgeonly neighbor. I understand that women with child have particular cravings, but cherries are dear, and I had to promise Nahum a new door frame for just a small basket of cherries for Mary whoI am ashamed to say itwas waddling considerably. One cherry might render her immobile.

Yet Nahum's old tree was, I'll admit, full of fruitso full that a cherry flung itself at my face as we walked by, and its rotting brothers reddened our sandals. I slipped a bit, and had to let go of Mary's elbow, and felt foolish.

Do you know the feeling of annoyance when you are in the presence of too much goodness? That is precisely what I felt when Mary steadied me, then said in her whispery voice, "Joseph, here is the basket. Dearest, can you fill it? The child I bear would be thankful for something sweet"

Then Joseph flew in anger, in anger flew he
"Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee"

I don't know what angered me the mostthat little voice asking for cherries with such infernal humility, or her small hand lingering at my arm after my stumble on the rotting cherriesperhaps it was Nahum's smirk when I bartered for the sake of my pregnant fiance. Without any attempt to suppress my hurtful words, I shook my arm free and bent my face to Mary's. "It's cherries you want? Let the babe's father gather them, thenif you know who he might be!"

Mary stepped away from me, her face pale and her mouth slightly open.

Then up spoke baby Jesus, from out Mary's womb
"Bow down ye tallest tree that my mother might have some"

How to describe the next moments? There was a voice, I tell you, a voiceseeming to come both from Mary's rounded belly and also from the heavens. It was not talking to me, however, but to the ancient tree, whose branches stilled in attention. Indeed, all of earth stopped to listen: the locusts fell silent, the wind dropped to the ground, even Nahum's scrawny cat paused while licking one cherry-besmirched paw.

And this is what the voice saidCherry tree, my mother desires your fruit. Upper branches where the cherries are sweetfill her basket, if you please!"

I swear it.

So bent down the tallest tree to touch Mary's hand
Said she, "Oh look now Joseph, I have cherries at command"

The tree creaked and bent, and you'd have laughed to see the willing cherries hopping merrily into Mary's basket! So many there were that soon she laughed and threw a hand to the heavens, and said stop, stop, there are too many here!

And I? I fell to my knees, staining my garment with blood-red juice. I had demanded that the babe's father gather the cherries, and the babe himself had commanded them. Who is the father of the baby, then? Why, he himself is his own father, is he not? I am an old man, but this simple truth seems as evident to me as the twin splotches on my robe.

When Joseph was an old man, an old man was he
He married Virgin Mary, the Queen of Galilee


Author's Note: There are many versions of "The Cherry Tree Carol", which dates as far back as the 15th century. Although it is obviously more traditional than Biblical, there is a lovely Biblical truth illustrated at its climax.

Jan is a Christian who has traveled through sorrow and depression, and has found victory and grace. She dedicates all writings to her Heavenly Father. Check out Jan's website at
Copywrite Jan Ackerson--2006

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